The former Mt. San Jacinto College basketball player wins $250,000 after suing school

A former college basketball player at Mt. San Jacinto has been awarded $250,000 in damages after a former coach and school sued him alleging he altered his financial aid forms.

Emily Stallow received more than $4,500 in financial aid after she claims then-basketball coach Fontai Muzega falsified her 2018 financial aid form. In a 2020 news release, Stallow family attorney Bob Ottili claimed that Mozga’s plan was “an illegal acquisition.” Money from the Ministry of Education to strengthen the school’s sports program.”

Murrieta Mesa High School’s Emily Stallow, left, tries to stop Vista Murrieta High School’s Kiara Barton during the 12th annual Desert Valley All-Star Basketball Game at Lakeside High School in Lake Elsinore in 2018. Stallow, who went on to play for Mt. Jacinto College has won a civil lawsuit against the college. (File photo by Frank Bellino, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

“I think it was very emotional for Emily because she’s been exposed for almost four years and (she felt) kind of responsible for it,” Ottili said.

Ottili refused to interview Stallo.

In a statement, the Community College District of Mt. San Jacinto said it plans to challenge the September ruling “through appropriate legal channels and not through the media.”

The district also said it disagreed with the “characterizations of the evidence” in a news release from Ottilie’s office announcing the verdict.

Prior to his employment at the College of Mt. San Jacinto was a star player at Murrieta Mesa High School. In her first year on the college team, the women’s basketball team won the conference championship in the 2018-19 season.

Ottili said in a statement that Stallo left the college and the team in the 2019-19 school year because Mozega was still the coach more than a year after Stallo’s allegations.

Courtney L. Hilton, the attorney representing Mount San Jacinto College, said the college has returned the federal and state money it gave Stallow in 2018.

The jury voted unanimously in Stallo’s favor. The jury found that Stallo was 10 percent at fault. Mozega and Fantaya Willingham, a financial aid technician at Mount San Jacinto, were each 25 percent responsible and the college 40 percent to blame.

Mozega’s attorney, Maria K. Arwig, said Mozega declined to comment on the verdict. Willingham, who left the college in 2019, could not be reached for comment.

Because Stallo gave Mozga his login information, he was responsible for some of his injuries, Uttili said.

Stallow, who was hired in 2018, was contacted that year by Mozega to get login information for his free application form for federal student aid, according to Stallow’s complaint. Three months later, Stallo began receiving checks and received free tuition — even though her family was not eligible for those benefits when she initially filled out the form in October 2017, according to the lawsuit.

When Stallo received the first $1,016 check from the school, the lawsuit alleges, Mozega told her that she was lucky and that “some of the girls on the basketball team are getting these checks as funding from the school.”

When her parents realized that the checks their daughter was receiving were not from the school but from federal aid, they returned the money to the college. Stallow and his family claim they have not received proof that the college returned the money to the state.

Hilton said Stallow’s U.S. Department of Education account currently does not show that he received money in 2018, indicating that the money his parents paid the school was returned.

He also said that Stallow’s student file has been purged of documents related to the incident.

Otili said Mozega removed her parents’ income to get Stallo tuition waivers and financial aid, adding that she had a baby, added four siblings to her family and wrote that she earned $6,500 in 2016 — all These were lies.

Mozega and Willingham told Stallo he could use the money after he and his parents discovered the mistakes on his financial aid form.

In the complaint, Stallo alleges that he believes “at least one other teammate, if not more, benefited from the funds received in a similar manner.”

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