Great Falls College Student Loan Scam Lands Woman In Jail
A Cascade resident, Ricci Lea Castellanos, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, after being convicted of illegally obtaining around $126,000 in federal student aid through a fraudulent scheme involving enrollment at Great Falls College, Montana State University.
U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich announced the sentencing.
Castellanos, 35, had previously pleaded guilty in March to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The sentencing was overseen by Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris, who also ordered Castellanos to pay $68,175 in restitution.
According to court documents, the government's case alleged that from January 2016 to December 2019, Castellanos and others surreptitiously enrolled family members and unwitting individuals in online courses at Great Falls College, Montana State University.
During this period, they applied for and received federal student aid amounting to approximately $126,219 despite not meeting the eligibility requirements.
Furthermore, Castellanos and her associates deceitfully submitted American Indian Tuition Waivers and utilized fraudulent tribal enrollment forms to obtain student living expense refunds.
One particularly egregious act involved Castellanos forging the signature of an individual identified as "Jane Doe 1" to apply for enrollment with Great Falls College fraudulently.
As a result, Castellanos received $2,378 in financial aid, which was subsequently withdrawn in cash. It was later revealed that Jane Doe 1 had reported her identity as stolen to the Great Falls Police Department.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan G. Weldon and Benjamin D. Hargrove and was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General.
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