Two women sentenced to federal prison in fraud case

Merced Sun-Star staffSeptember 19, 2013 

Two Merced County women received federal prison sentences Monday of more than two years each for their roles in a $200,000 student-aid fraud conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice reported.

Yvette M. August, 53, of Atwater was sentenced to 25 months in prison and Kim R. Gray, 51, of Los Banos, was ordered to serve 28 months, according to a Justice Department statement.

Both women pleaded guilty in July to single counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to plea agreements filed in U.S. District Court.

According to court documents, August and Gray participated in a conspiracy with others to defraud the U.S. Department of Education of student aid grants and loans.

They submitted false financial aid applications to Axia College at the University of Phoenix and Capella University on behalf of students who did not plan to attend either school, authorities said.

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.

As a result of the conspiracy, more than $200,000 in grants and loans were disbursed, resulting in approximately $110,000 being paid to the defendants, the Justice Department said.

Conspirators would apply for student-aid grants and government-insured loans and have the money applied to prepaid debit cards in the names of “straw students,” according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

The conspiracy began in early 2008 and ended in 2011, according to court records.

Following a three-day trial in July, jurors found co-conspirator Keith L. Woolridge Sr., 41, of Fresno, guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The morning of trial, Piersha Woolridge, 34, of Atwater, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Piersha Woolridge is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23 and Keith Woolridge is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 31.

Keith Woolridge, Piersha Wooldridge and Kim Gray are siblings, according to the indictment.

All four were indicted on 28 counts in 2012 of aggravated identity theft, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to court records.

In a separate case, Willie Sherman Prude, 53, and Deana Shirelle Nolen, 47, of Boron were sentenced to four years’ probation for their roles in another student aid fraud scheme, according to the Justice Department statement.

The cases are the result of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s criminal investigations aimed at shutting down federal student aid “fraud rings.” The U.S. Postal Inspection Service assisted in the investigation.

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