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Press Release

Cascade woman admits charges in Great Falls College student loan fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Montana

GREAT FALLS — A Cascade woman accused of illegally receiving approximately $126,000 in federal student aid through a scheme in which she enrolled others in courses at Great Falls College, Montana State University, admitted to charges today, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Ricci Lea Castellanos, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to aggravated identity theft. Castellanos faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the conspiracy crime, and a mandatory minimum two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release on the aggravated identity theft crime.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing was set for Aug. 3. Castellanos was released pending further proceedings.

The government alleged in court document that between January 2016 and December 2019, Castellanos enrolled  unwitting family members and others in online classes at Great Falls College, Montana State University. When doing so, Castellanos, and others, applied for and received federal student aid totaling approximately $126,219, none of which was allowed. In addition, Castellanos and others fraudulently used and submitted multiple American Indian Tuition Waivers. Castellanos and others created and used false tribal enrollment forms from Native American Tribes, all of which were designed to result in larger student living expense refunds. Castellanos and others then diverted the money. In addition, Castellanos and others used the identify of a person, Jane Doe 1, to apply for enrollment with Great Falls College in August 2017. When applying, Castellanos forged Jane Doe 1’s signature and received $2,378 in financial aid into her bank account, Castellanos then immediately withdrew the money in cash. Jane Doe 1 had reported her identity stolen to the Great Falls Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan G. Weldon and Benjamin D. Hargrove prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General.



Clair Johnson Howard

Public Affairs Officer


Updated March 20, 2023

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 23-92