A woman from Cascade, Montana, recently admitted to charges stemming from illegally receiving over $125,000 in student aid, using a series of schemes involving fraudulent native American tribal information, and enrolling family members in online classes at multiple schools without their knowledge.
According to the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Montana, Ricci Lea Castellanos, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to aggravated identity theft.
Between January 2016 and December 2019, Castellanos enrolled her family members and others in online classes without their knowledge. The courses were at Great Falls College in Great Falls, Montana, and Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana.
Castellanos and her cohorts applied for and received federal student aid that amounted to $126,219, all of it illegal.
Along with the illegal aid, the 34-year-old and others allegedly used false tribal enrollment forms from native American tribes, which allowed them to receive larger amounts of money for living expenses.
The accused is said to have "diverted the money" once she received it.
Castellanos even forged the signature of an unnamed individual in order to receive almost $2,500 worth of financial aid to her bank account, before immediately withdrawing the cash. The unidentified woman reported the identity theft to the Great Falls Police Department in Montana.
The Montana woman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release for her conspiracy charge alone.
The charge for aggravated identity theft comes with a mandatory minimum of two years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and one year of supervised release.
Recently, a media executive was charged with fraud and identity theft after impersonating a YouTube executive with voice modulating software to convince Goldman Sachs to invest up to $45 million in his company.
In late February 2023, a Chinese criminal organization obtained duplicate driver's licenses by acquiring the personal information of 3,000 Asian-Americans residing in Texas via the dark web. The group used the information to order duplicate driver’s licenses through the Texas Department of Public Safety website.
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