Two Sentenced To Prison For Student Loan Fraud Schemes
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — United States District Judge Troy L. Nunley sentenced Brent W. Wilder, 44, of Antelope, today to two years and nine months in prison, and on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton sentenced Michelle Wright, 32, of Stockton, to three years in prison and one year of home confinement, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. The defendants were charged in separate cases with conspiracy to commit student loan fraud. Wright was also convicted of aggravated identity theft.
In the first case, according to court documents, between February 2009 and April 2012, Wilder and Michael J. Huddleston, 44, of Sacramento, obtained Federal Student Assistant (FSA) funds by recruiting more than 50 straw students to apply for aid and caused the fraudulent disbursement of more than $200,000. The straw students applied for FSA at American River College, Sacramento City College and Consumnes River College. These applications contained false statements regarding the eligibility of the applicant. For the most part, all of the students signed up by Wilder and Huddleston withdrew from classes shortly after receiving the funds or received failing grades. While some of those students may have used the funds for legitimate educational expenses, Wilder and Huddleston demanded approximately half of those funds for their own purposes. Wilder has been ordered to pay $19,411 in restitution.
In the second case, Michelle Wright was part of a similar conspiracy to commit student loan fraud. She and her co-defendants recruited straw students to sign up for college classes for the purpose of receiving financial aid funds. Some of the individuals agreed to have their identities used to commit fraud; other individuals had their personal information used to commit fraud without their consent.
“I’m proud of the work of OIG special agents and our law enforcement colleagues for holding Michelle Wright and Brent Wilder accountable for their criminal actions and for shutting down two more student aid fraud rings in California,” said Natalie Forbort, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Western Regional Office. “As these two fraud ringleaders and their co-conspirators who have been sentenced for participating in these fraud rings know, stealing student aid is a crime. Tracking down those who prey on this program and the innocent students who rely on it to make their dreams of a higher education a reality is a priority of our office.”
Huddleston is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Troy Nunley on March 6, 2013. He remains out of custody on a $100,000 bond.
Five others have been convicted and sentenced in Wright’s case. Janeigh Mendoza, 32, of Tracy, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison. The others, including Michelle Wright’s husband Kenneth Wright, were sentenced to terms of probation. Michelle Wright was ordered to pay $129,171 in restitution.
These cases are the product of investigations by the United States Department of Education, Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Jared C. Dolan is prosecuting the cases.