Three Inland Empire Women Arrested on Charges of Fraudulently Obtaining Student Aid for ‘Students’ Who Never Attended School
RIVERSIDE, California – Three San Bernardino County women were arrested today on federal charges that allege a scheme in which they fraudulently collected nearly $1 million in federal student aid for 235 “students” – the vast majority of whom never attended any classes.
A 21-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on June 5 charges the defendants with defrauding the United States Department of Education by falsely claiming the “students” would attend Fullerton College and other schools. Some of the applications for student aid were filed under the names of stolen identities and at least two were filed on behalf of inmates in California state prisons.
The three defendants arrested this morning are:
- Sparkle Shorale Nelson, 32, of Highland;
- Shykeena Monique Johnson, 31, a.k.a. “Shy,” of Apple Valley; and
- Jerrika Eldrena Lashay Johnson, 37, a.k.a. “Muffin,” “Big Sis,” and “Jerrika Carter,” of Apple Valley.
All three are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Riverside.
According to the indictment, the women and unindicted co-conspirators obtained personal identifying information, including names and Social Security numbers, that the defendants used to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form completed by prospective and current university students to determine their eligibility for financial aid.
As a result of the applications filed in 2013 and 2014, the Department of Education approved financial aid for the “straw students.” After Fullerton College and other schools deducted student fees, the schools disbursed money to the “students” via debit cards that were mailed to the defendants and their co-conspirators, the indictment alleges.
In August 2014, according to the indictment, Nelson submitted a FAFSA form online to the Education Department that used the personal identifying information of a straw student who in fact was a state prisoner. In September 2014, Nelson allegedly activated a debit card in the prisoner’s name and subsequently used the debit card to make a $370 payment to her Southern California Edison account.
At least $1,089,856 in student aid funds were disbursed by the U.S. Department of Education to Fullerton College for the 235 straw students associated with this fraudulent scheme. The school then placed $977,792 on debit cards that were sent to the defendants and their associates.
All three defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud, and 11 counts of wire fraud. Nelson, Johnson and Carter each face additional counts of aggravated identity theft and financial aid fraud.
If convicted on all the charges in the indictment, all three defendants would face statutory maximum sentences of more than 300 years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Department of Education Office of the Inspector General and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sean D. Peterson of the Riverside Branch Office.