For two years, Laura Oglesby had everyone in Mountain View, Missouri, fooled.
The Arkansas native attended classes at Southwest Baptist University, lived near campus, worked at a public library, and dated younger men. Her community believed she was a 22-year-old undergraduate student named Lauren Ashleigh Hays. But in reality, she was a 48-year-old woman who had stolen her estranged daughter's identity to start a new life.
On Monday, the ruse was officially up. Oglesby pleaded guilty to one count of Social Security fraud and agreed to pay at least $17,000 in restitution to the university she swindled, the Justice Department said.
In a news release, the department reported that Oglesby began living under the false identity starting in 2016. She now faces up to five years in prison without parole, though she will likely be sentenced to less.
First, she applied for a Social Security card in her daughter's name. Then, using that Social Security card, she obtained a fraudulent Missouri driver's license. Next, she enrolled at the university and obtained $9,400 in federal student loans and $5,920 in Pell Grants. She also spent $337 on books and accumulated $1,863 in finance charges.
“Everybody believed it,” Mountain View Police Chief Jamie Perkins told the New York Times. “She even had boyfriends that believed that she was that age: 22 years old.”
But Perkins told the paper that everything unraveled in August 2018, when authorities in Arkansas contacted the Mountain View Police Department searching for Oglesby. They said she had stolen Hays’ identity in that state in 2017 to commit financial fraud and embezzle more than $25,000 and believed she was living in Missouri under the fake identity.
Police began investigating and soon determined the allegations were accurate. They decided to pull Oglesby over during a traffic stop, and after initially denying the allegations, she confessed to them.
Perkins said that Oglesby claimed she assumed the false identity to escape an abusive relationship.
“[She said] she was just running because she was in a domestic violence relationship, and she’d been running for years,” he recalled. “We don’t know her life story outside of what she told us, but we know what happened here.”
“I have never seen an ID case like this at all, whether from fleeing from abuse or any other type,” MPD assistant chief Stetson Schwien said, according to NBC News. “Usually, the ones I see, people are trying to assume an ID for financial gain, like credit card fraud."
Schwien added that Oglesby "had completely adopted a younger lifestyle: clothing, makeup, and personality. She had completely assumed becoming a younger person in her early twenties."
In a statement this week, a spokesperson for Southwest Baptist University said, "We were saddened to learn about the situation and cooperated fully with the investigation. Our prayers are with all involved."
The real Lauren Hays, Oglesby's daughter, has yet to provide comment to the media.