by Monte McCoin
On January 12, 2018, Mercedes Diaz, 28, was sentenced to two years in prison for her role in an identity theft scheme that preyed upon 181 prisoners in Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, Florida and Illinois between August 2010 and October 2012. Diaz, along with co-conspirators Heather Carr, Marcelle Green and Trammel Thomas, used the prisoners’ identities to apply for federal student loans through community colleges in Colorado and Arizona. The scam netted the group $582,000 in fraudulent student financial aid.
Previously, Carr had been sentenced to four years and 9 months in prison for using her employment at a bank to obtain prisoners’ names, birth dates and Social Security numbers. A federal jury found Thomas guilty of one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and six counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud, while Green entered a guilty plea to similar charges. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in April 2018.
“They took advantage of 181 individuals who had no way of monitoring their credit reports when they are in a prison cell,” U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez said before sentencing Diaz. He added that it will now be that much harder for those prisoners to get jobs and reform their lives once they are released, due to the impact on their credit ratings.
“Federal student aid exists so that individuals can pursue and make their dream of a higher education a reality, it’s not a personal slush fund,” said Adam Shanedling, a special agent with the Inspector General’s office of the U.S. Department of Education.
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