OIG: Office of Inspector General
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Investigative Reports

United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California

Fresno And Merced County Residents Arrested In Student Aid Fraud Scheme

February 14, 2012
Docket #: 1:12-cr-0031 AWI -DLB
CONTACT: Lauren Horwood
PHONE: (916) 554-2706

FRESNO, Calif. — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced the arrest today of Piersha Woolridge, 34, Yvette August, 41, both of Atwater; Kim Gray, 39, of Los Banos; and Keith Woolridge, 41, of Fresno. A federal grand jury returned an indictment against them on February 2, 2012 charging them with conspiring to commit student aid fraud and identity theft. In addition, the indictment charged Piersha Woolridge with 13 counts of mail fraud. The indictment was sealed until their arrest today.

According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to defraud the U.S. Department of Education of student aid grants and loans by submitting false financial aid applications to Axia College at the University of Phoenix and Capella University on behalf of students who did not intend to attend either school. The indictment alleges that in some cases the defendants used stolen or wrongfully obtained personal identifying information for persons who did not know their identities would be used to apply for college financial aid. The indictment alleges that as a result of the conspiracy, over $200,000 in grants and loans were disbursed, resulting in approximately $110,000 being paid to the defendants.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Department of Education, Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant United States Attorney Mark J. McKeon is prosecuting the case.

“U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “Federal student loan programs are intended to improve the long-term prospects of students committed to education and to create a more competitive economy for the nation. Those who rip off these programs are not only stealing from the taxpayer, they are taking money intended for deserving students. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to target fraudsters who perpetuate student loan fraud schemes.”

“Scams like this steal money from hardworking taxpayers and legitimate students and that is unacceptable,” said Natalie Forbort, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Western Regional Office. “OIG is committed to fighting student financial aid fraud and we will continue to aggressively pursue those that participate in these types of crimes.”

The maximum statutory penalty for a violation of conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the maximum statutory penalty for mail fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the actual sentence 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.


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Last Modified: 02/23/2012