Third man sentenced in Merced County loan fraud case

Sun-Star staffOctober 22, 2013 

— A Fresno man received a federal prison sentence of 42 months earlier this week for his role in a student fraud ring in Merced County.

Lazell Woolridge Sr., 41, was sentenced Monday by Judge Anthony W. Ishii in U.S. District Court. A jury convicted Woolridge on July11 of aggravated identity theft, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.

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. Both received their sentences last month.

Piersha Woolridge, 34, of Atwater, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov.12.

All four were indicted in 2012 on 28 counts of aggravated identity theft, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, authorities said.

According to court records, the defendants conspired to defraud the U.S. Department of Education of student aid grants and loans by submitting false financial aid applications to Axia College at the University of Phoenix and Capella University on behalf of students who did not plan to attend either school.

The conspiracy began in early 2008 and ended in 2011. Conspirators applied for student-aid grants and government-insured loans and applied the money to prepaid debit cards in the names of “straw students,” according to the indictment.

More than $200,000 in grants and loans were disbursed, resulting in about $110,000 being paid to the defendants, the Justice Department said.

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