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Eastern District of California

Monday, March 21, 2016

Last Defendant Sentenced in Central Valley Student Aid Fraud and Identity Theft Scheme

FRESNO, Calif. — Piersha Dwan Woolridge, 37, of Atwater, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii to four years and eight months in prison and ordered to pay $347,732 in restitution, for her role in a student aid fraud and identity theft scheme, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, Woolridge was the leader of a scheme to defraud the United States Department of Education of student aid grants and loans. She submitted false financial aid applications to the University of Phoenix and Capella University on behalf of students who did not intend to attend either school. She also used stolen identities to apply for college financial aid in the names of persons who did not know their information was being used in the scheme. As a result of the scheme, more than $370,000 in fraudulently obtained grants and loans was disbursed.

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.”

“I’m proud of the work of OIG special agents and our law enforcement colleagues for shutting down yet another student aid fraud ring and holding Ms. Woolridge and her conspirators accountable for their criminal actions,” 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 who participate in these types of crimes.”

On July 11, 2013, a jury found co-defendant Keith Woolridge guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft after a three-day jury trial. He was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. Other participants in the scheme received the following prison sentences after pleading guilty: Yvette August was sentenced to two years and one month; Kim Gray was sentenced to two years and four months; and Sherise Woolridge was sentenced to four years and six months.

This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General. United States Attorneys Mark J. McKeon and Grant B. Rabenn prosecuted the case.

Financial Fraud
USAO - California, Eastern

Last Modified: 03/24/2016