Scammer who used inmates’ IDs for loans convicted
A Phoenix man who used the birth dates and Social Security numbers of prison inmates in Colorado and other states to get $582,000 in federal student loans has been convicted of fraud.
A jury in Denver U.S. District Court jury on Nov. 30 found Tramel Thomas guilty of one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and six counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud. Thomas faces up to 20 years in prison for each mail fraud charge and 10 years in prison for conspiracy.
Three co-conspirators — Heather Carr, Mercedes Diaz, and Marcelle Green — had already entered guilty pleas to similar charges, according to a news release by Jeffrey Dorschner, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer.
“These thieves received a well-deserved education in federal justice,” Troyer said in the news release.
The suspects visited correctional websites in Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio to get birth dates of convicts serving prison terms. They looked for inmates who had lengthy prison terms, believing they would be less likely to discover the scam.
One of the suspects, who worked at a bank, accessed the prisoners’ Social Security numbers at work, Dorschner’s news release says.
Thomas and the other suspects then filed 181 fake Free Applications for Federal Student Aid requests under prisoner names seeking $1.3 million in student aid through community colleges in Colorado and Arizona.
The U.S. Education Department approved $582,000 worth of student loans. Of that the conspirators received $419,000 in the form of debit cards.
“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, special agent in charge of the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Education’s western region.
Inspector general agents continually look for people who steal student aid or “game the system for their own selfish purposes,” Shanedling said.
Postal inspectors, who investigate predatory fraud schemes through the mail, also assisted in the student aid fraud case, Denver region acting U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Nicole Davis said.