Midlands woman gets 18 months in fake student loan scheme

Published: Nov. 16, 2012 at 8:37 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2012 at 8:37 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WIS) - An Orangeburg woman has been sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of over $130,000 for her role in a student loan scheme that defrauded the U.S. Department of Education out of approximately $680,000.

A federal judge sentenced Latanya Cochran, 41, to a year and a half in federal prison and  restitution of $130,280 to the U.S. Department of Education.

Cochran and Lena Gant, 48, of Walterboro were the ringleaders of a scheme to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan money. They were convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and student financial aid fraud.

Gant was sentenced in September to 27 months in federal prison and restitution of $133,175.

Cochran and Gant, along with two others, recruited individuals known as "straw students" who were told that they could get thousands of dollars in student financial aid without having to take online college courses, according to U.S. District Attorney Bill Nettles.

The "straw students" included family, friends, and co-workers of the conspirators. The conspirators used the personal information of the "straw students" to file false online college admissions applications and federal student financial aid applications in the names of the "straw students."

As a result, the conspirators caused student loans and grants and student aid credit balance refund checks to be issued in the name of the "straw students." The conspirators were paid through "fees" taken from the student aid credit balance refund checks received by the "straw students."

The conspirators caused at least $680,000 of student loans and grants to be disbursed in the names of ineligible individuals, Nettles said.

"Federal student aid exists so that legitimate students can make their dreams of a higher education a reality - not to be used a slush fund for criminals," said Yessyka Santana, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General's Southeastern Regional Office. "Financial fraud is a top priority of this office.  We will continue to work with law enforcement to expose fraudsters who prey on our federal programs."

The case was investigated by agents of the United States Department of Education-Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Secret Service. Assistant United States Attorney Dean H. Secor of the Charleston office handled the case.

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