Officials: Three guilty of sending false student loan applications

FRESNO, Calif. - Keith Lazell Woolridge Sr., 41, of Fresno, was sentenced Monday to three and a half years in prison.

On July 11, a jury found Woolridge guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft in a student loan fraud scheme.

Co-defendant Piersha Woolridge, 34, of Atwater, is scheduled to be sentenced on November 12. Co-defendant Yvette Maura August, 53, of Atwater, was sentenced to 25 months in prison, and Kim Rene Gray, 51, of Los Banos, was sentenced to 28 months in prison for student aid fraud.

This case is 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” that seek to exploit federal student aid programs. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Mark J. McKeon and Grant B. Rabenn are prosecuting the case.

“Federal student aid exists so that individuals can make their dream of a higher education a reality. As the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Education, ensuring that those who steal student aid or game the system for their own selfish purposes are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions is a big part of our mission,” said Natalie Forbort, Special Agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Western Regional Office.

According to court documents, Woolridge participated in a conspiracy with others to defraud the United States 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 intend to attend either school. 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 $300,000 in fraudulent grant and loan applications were submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. 

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