WASHINGTON - As the student protest at Howard University came to an end on Friday, the public is turning its attention back to the financial aid scandal that started it all, and the man who found himself at the center of a social media firestorm.
Tyrone Hankerson Jr. is now suing Howard University for $10 million, accusing the institution of not doing enough to protect his financial documents, which were illegally leaked amid the scandal. Hankerson has maintained his innocence from the beginning.
Once the internet got a hold of his documents, Hankerson became an overnight pariah. His social media featured pictures of himself with fur coats, designer bags and luxury cars. His name trended on Twitter and people posted memes under #Tyrone and #FinesseGod. But is the 25-year-old Howard University “celebrity” really living the lavish lifestyle he appears to be?
Hankerson spoke exclusively to Roland Martin when the scandal first broke. He asked about the infamous photo of Hankerson with a Range Rover.
“Do you own a Range Rover?” asked Martin.
“No,” explained Hankerson. “What occurred was that – I believe it was my junior year during Howard’s Homecoming. Everybody knows that you get outfits and things like that. My roommate was a photographer and I did Hank’s homecoming lookbook, which was actually featured in The Hilltop, the student newspaper. We were walking past a Range Rover and took a picture.”
Hankerson is now a law school student set to graduate in May. He worked as an assistant in the university’s financial aid office as an undergraduate student from 2011 to 2015.
Whistleblowers named him when they leaked information on the financial aid scandal, saying it appeared he was getting too much money over other deserving students.
“The premise is he worked in the [administration] building and pushed a button and gave himself $400,000 when he had no decision-making authority,” explained Hankerson's lawyer, James Walker.
“I had no decision-making authority with the awards that I was given nor have I ever authorized any money on my account,” added Hankerson.
Plus, he claimws it was only half that amount over double the amount of time. Hankerson said that over eight years and 16 semesters, plus summer semesters, he received more than $200,000 in scholarships, grants and a stipend as a student employee.
“In merit, I was extremely high, and in need I was extremely high as well as based on my expected family contribution,” explained Hankerson.
But with posts on his Facebook account in which he said things such as, “another semester down, another bag secured,” the internet was left wondering if he really “needed” the help.
Hankerson said it was all act – his designer duds were given to him or bought secondhand.
“Again, I was doing blogs that were showcasing lifestyle,” he added.
Here is how Hankerson said it breaks down – he estimates total cost of school plus living came to about $44,000 a year, plus the summer programs, totaling about $75,000 a year. Not every year totaled out the same and Walker said they are prepared to provide documentation to the courts to prove their case.
Hankerson undoubtedly got more than the average student, but his lawyer said that is where the merit factor comes in.
“He’s getting good grades,” Walker said. “He participates in community service, he’s active in volunteering. He really is a brand ambassador for the school.”
No matter where you land on this controversy, one thing is clear – six people were found to have allegedly taken money from the financial aid office and were fired. Hankerson was not one of them.
His lawsuit against Howard University was set to be filed in D.C. Superior Court on Friday. The university was also supposed to release the results of their independent investigation into the financial aid scandal on Friday. They have not yet to do so.