United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
For Immediate Release
Thursday, June 3, 2010 www.usdoj.gov/usao/cae
Contact: Lauren Horwood
SACRAMENTO RESIDENTS CHARGED IN FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN FRAUD RING
SACRAMENTO -- United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that a federal grand jury returned a twenty-six count superseding indictment charging Nakesha Sharrieff, aka Takiyah Raheem and Aysia Hanifah Kahan, 23, Thomas Keys 23, Jarmal Duplessis 22, Hoa Tasha Kelly, aka Tasha Kelly, 24, Jewel Minor, 24, and Teaona Williams, 24, all of Sacramento, with various charges relating to a student loan fraud ring that operated from 2004 through most of 2009. Sharrieff, Keys, and Dupless had previously been charged by indictment in October 2009. The superseding indictment continues the charges against these defendants, adds some charges relating to Sharrieff, and brings charges for the first time against Kelly, Minor, and Williams. Defendants Williams and Kelly were arrested yesterday in Sacramento. All defendants are charged with conspiring to obtain federal financial aid by fraud or deceit. Sharrieff, Kelly, Minor, and Williams are charged with mail fraud; Sharrieff is also charged with two
This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Department of Education - Office of the Inspector General, with assistance during the arrests from the Sacramento Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Jean M. Hobler is prosecuting the case.
According to the indictment, Kelly, Minor, and Williams acted as recruiters for Sharrieff - finding individuals who were willing to supply their names, dates of birth, and social security numbers. Sharrieff then used the information to obtain federal student assistance funds (financial aid) for attendance at American River College, in the Los Rios Community College District. None of the "straw students" who provided their personal information had any intention of attending school. Instead, the indictment alleges that when the checks were mailed to addresses associated with Sharrieff, Williams, Kelly, and/or Minor, some or all of them met the straw students at banks or check cashing locations where the checks were cashed and the proceeds split between the straw student, Sharrieff, and the recruiter. Through the scheme, over $200,000 in federal financial aid funds were fraudulently obtained. Keys and Duplessis are charged as co-conspirators for their roles in the scheme as "straw students."
The indictment also alleges that Sharrieff stole identities from two individuals and used them to obtain federal financial aid. Sharrieff is also charged with obstructing law enforcement, for attempting to prevent witnesses from speaking with law enforcement. Sharrieff allegedly sent a message that one witness needed to "keep his mouth shut," and would have "a price on his head."
"In these tough economic times, federal financial aid must be preserved for real students who are working hard to make better lives for themselves and their families," said United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. "Our office will work with the Department of Education to do everything possible to seek out and punish people who game the system and steal the financial aid that is so crucial to those who truly want and need to go to school."
"I want to commend OIG Special Agents and our partners in law enforcement whose actions brought about the indictment and arrests. I would also like to thank the staff of the American River College for referring this matter to our office," said Kathleen S. Tighe, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education. "Working together, we will aggressively pursue anyone who steals student financial aid and hold them accountable for their unlawful actions."
The maximum statutory penalty for the conspiracy charge is five years incarceration, a $250,000 fine, or both. The statutory maximum for mail fraud and obstruction is twenty years incarceration, a $250,000 fine, or both. The penalty for aggravated identity theft is a mandatory two years incarceration consecutive to any sentence for other convictions in the case. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.