In Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, US District Judge Carlton W. Reeves sentenced Anthony Kelley, the owner of Trendsetters Barber College, to a year and a day behind bars. Kelley, 60, had inked a plea deal with federal prosecutors on May 20, 2021, for two counts of wire fraud. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
The professional fate of the Mississippi barber who bilked military veterans out of their GI Bill benefits now rests in the hands of state regulators.
Reached in Tupelo on Wednesday, Aug. 24, Mississippi Board of Barber Examiners President Michael McBunch told Coffee or Die Magazine he couldn’t discuss details of the case against convicted fraudster Anthony Kelley, the owner of Trendsetters Barber College in Jackson, but said his panel would be briefed about an ongoing investigation on Oct. 16.
“As a judge in the matter, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss the investigation, but the board is waiting for everything to be put together,” said McBunch, who also owns his own salon.
At issue is the state’s licensing of both the 60-year-old Kelley and his Trendsetters Barber College.
The school offered a bogus “Master Barber” course between 2016 and 2019 that defrauded the US Department of Veterans Affairs out of $402,357.14 in GI Bill payments tied to 11 vets who took Kelley's class.
The Mississippi Board of Barber Examiners is an independent agency of the state government. State law mandates that students complete 1,500 hours of curriculum study in an approved course before they can apply for a permit to style hair. Mississippi Board of Barber Examiners photo.
Kelley inked a plea deal with prosecutors on May 20, 2021, for two counts of wire fraud. On Aug. 17 in Jackson, US District Judge Carlton W. Reeves sentenced Kelley to 366 days behind bars and ordered him to pay back the money he rooked from the VA.
Federal prosecutors and investigators expressed concern to the judge that Kelley’s shenanigans hurt GI Bill students the most because their professional licensure was now in jeopardy and they couldn’t recoup their educational benefits.
“Unfortunately, VA does not have the authority to restore GI Bill entitlement to these impacted student veterans,” VA spokesperson Joseph “Joe” Williams told Coffee or Die in an email. “While VA has the authority to restore benefit entitlement in limited circumstances, it does not apply in this instance.”
Williams also confirmed that Kelley’s shop continued to get paid by the VA’s Veteran Canteen Service long after VA agents alleged he’d defrauded their agency. In fact, he kept getting paid to cut hair at the VA’s medical center in Jackson after he'd pleaded guilty and had attended two sentencing hearings.
Kelley's PatriotClips contract wasn’t terminated until May 4, 2022, a day after Judge Reeves questioned in court why the VA continued to fund a man convicted of grifting veterans.
Convicted fraudster Anthony Kelley, 60, of Mississippi was sentenced to a year and day behind bars on Aug. 17, 2022, for bilking GI Bill students with a faux “Master Barber” course. In spite of its own agents’ criminal probe into Kelley’s business and his conviction more than a year ago, the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical center in Jackson continued to pay him to cut hair. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
During Kelley’s Aug. 17 sentencing hearing, Assistant US Attorney Andrew W. Eichner told the judge the cutting contract was inked on June 29, 2016, and could’ve expired on June 29, 2018, but the deal allowed the VA and Kelley to automatically extend the arrangement annually.
During Kelley’s sentencing hearing, Eichner told the judge that Kelley had tried to point federal investigators toward one of his GI Bill students, alleging that he “was actually in on it,” but agents couldn’t find any evidence to corroborate Kelley’s claim.
“At this time, he hasn’t given any information that’s of value to the government,” Eichner said.
“Mr. Kelley's not the brain trust or the brainchild of this thing,” the barber’s attorney, Deshun T. Martin, told the judge. “We told the government about the two or three folks who were involved. We gave cell phone numbers and addresses. Mr. Kelley purged himself of all of the truth. He didn’t hold anything back from the government.”
Kelley is slated to report to a federal penitentiary on Oct. 11. The judge recommended to the US Bureau of Prisons that he serve his stint at Federal Correction Institution Yazoo, a low-security penitentiary in Mississippi.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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