Great Falls College student loan fraud scheme sends Cascade woman to prison for a year and a half
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Montana
GREAT FALLS — A Cascade woman convicted 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, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.
Ricci Lea Castellanos, 35, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to aggravated identity theft.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. The court ordered $68,175 restitution.
The government alleged in court documents 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 submitted American Indian Tuition Waivers and used false tribal enrollment forms to receive student living expense refunds. Castellanos also forged the signature of a person, Jane Doe 1, to apply for enrollment with Great Falls College and received $2,378 in financial aid into her bank account, which she withdrew 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 J. Howard
Public Affairs Officer
Updated November 8, 2023
Press Release Number: 23-423