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RI police to examine closed school's records

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Before determining whether to open a criminal investigation, the Rhode Island State Police said Friday the agency plans to examine the records of a career training school that abruptly closed this week.

Capt. Michael Winquist told The Associated Press that police will examine records at the Sawyer School, all of whose locations in Rhode Island and Connecticut were shut down. He said the records are being made available to authorities voluntarily.

About 300 students in Rhode Island were to resume classes at Sawyer on Wednesday but were notified in a one-paragraph letter this week that the school had shut its doors. About 1,200 students were displaced at Sawyer locations in Connecticut, said Mike Trainor, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education.

Winquist said the inquiry is in the early stages and authorities will look at "all aspects of this case" and the circumstances of the abrupt closure to determine whether any crimes were committed.

Trainor said Friday that state officials will be accessing the academic and financial records — all kept on paper, dating back to 1964 — along with state police.

The Office of Higher Education had tried unsuccessfully for nearly two days to reach Sawyer officials then contacted state police. Trainor said an associate commissioner of academic affairs, Deborah Grossman-Garber, finally spoke on Thursday night with Paul Kelly, whom he identified as Sawyer's former executive director.

Trainor said that Kelly agreed to provide access to the records and that the state hopes to be able to distribute them to students by the end of next week as they seek to transfer to other schools or get work. Six schools, including Lincoln Technical Institute, the Community College of Rhode Island and others, have said they will try to accommodate the displaced students.

Trainor declined to provide further information on what might have led to the closure. He said a state review conducted in the fall raised no concerns about the for-profit school's financial condition, he said.

"There were no red flags," he said.

A number for Kelly could not be immediately found. Michael Kelly, an executive at Academic Enterprises Inc., Sawyer's parent company, said he wasn't speaking to the media when reached at home in Plainfield, N.J.

In Rhode Island, Sawyer trained students to become medical assistants and for work with office information systems.

Former Sawyer student Joshua Miller of East Providence had five weeks of classes left and then was to complete an "externship" with a local business before getting his business certificate in March. The 31-year-old, who was laid off from his job at a bar, said he has thousands of dollars in outstanding loans, and is hoping to be able to transfer to another school.

"I thought I was going to have a job in a couple months, and start my life over," he said Friday. Now he said he feels "pretty useless."

Sawyer's accreditation by a national body has been revoked because it didn't follow procedures in shutting down, and Rhode Island has begun the process of revoking its license, according to Trainor.

Trainor said the U.S. Department of Education will be helping the state sift through the records and determining how much federal aid the school had received. He said Paul Kelly told state officials that Sawyer had returned its last installment of aid, in December.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education said the agency was not yet ready to release any details on Academic Enterprises.

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