Cascade woman gets prison time for college fraud scheme

A Cascade woman convicted of illegally receiving nearly $126,000 in federal student aid through a scheme in which she enrolled others in courses at Great Falls College was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison, federal officials 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 ordered $68,175 restitution.

The sentence includes three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

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.

She and others applied for and received federal student aid totaling about $126,219, none of which was allowed, officials said.

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They also fraudulently submitted American Indian Tuition Waivers and used false tribal enrollment forms to receive student living expense refunds. She 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

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