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Date: 03-20-2023

Case Style:

United States of America v. Ricci Lea Castellanos

Case Number:

Judge: Brian M. Morris

Court: United States District Court for the District of Montana (Cascade County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office in Great Falls

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Great Falls, Montana criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant charged with illegally receiving approximately $126,000 in federal student aid through a scheme in which she enrolled others in courses at Great Falls College, Montana State University.

Federal Courthouse - Great Falls, Montana

Federal Courthouse - Great Falls, Montana

MoreLaw Legal News For Great Falls

Ricci Lea Castellanos, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to aggravated identity theft. Castellanos faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the conspiracy crime, and a mandatory minimum two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release on the aggravated identity theft crime.

The government alleged in court document that between January 2016 and December 2019, Castellanos enrolled unwitting family members and others in online classes at Great Falls College, Montana State University. When doing so, Castellanos, and others, applied for and received federal student aid totaling approximately $126,219, none of which was allowed. In addition, Castellanos and others fraudulently used and submitted multiple American Indian Tuition Waivers. Castellanos and others created and used false tribal enrollment forms from Native American Tribes, all of which were designed to result in larger student living expense refunds. Castellanos and others then diverted the money. In addition, Castellanos and others used the identify of a person, Jane Doe 1, to apply for enrollment with Great Falls College in August 2017. When applying, Castellanos forged Jane Doe 1’s signature and received $2,378 in financial aid into her bank account, Castellanos then immediately withdrew the money in cash. Jane Doe 1 had reported her identity stolen to the Great Falls Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan G. Weldon and Benjamin D. Hargrove prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General.

Outcome: Defendant pled guilty.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


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