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December 15, 2010
For Immediate Release

Woman Indicted On Charges Involving Federal Student Aid Fraud

St. Louis, MO: The United States Attorney's Office announced today that Michelle Owens allegedly submitted fraudulent Webster University applications and fraudulent Department of Education financial aid applications in the names of twenty-three different Leath Correctional Institution inmates seeking admission and student loans in the approximate amount of $467,500. Owens was confined to Leath from December 2007 to September 2008 and worked in the prison's Education Department, where she had access to the personal information of other inmates.

According to the indictment, from December 2007 and October 2009, Owens submitted online applications for admission to Webster University's distance learning program in the names of individuals who were inmates at Leath, without their knowledge. Owens intended to use the financial aid funds for improper non-education purposes. On those applications, Owens used several residential addresses located in South Carolina. Based upon the information contained on the applications, Webster University accepted the individuals and mailed the letters to South Carolina. Additionally, the indictment alleges that Owens falsely applied for federal student financial aid on behalf of the inmates by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) either by computer over the internet or by paper application using the inmates' personal information. Once Webster University received the required supporting documentation, they created a financial aid package for that "applicant" and mailed the award notification to the same South Carolina addresses controlled by Owens.

Finally, the indictment states that Owens received the excess financial aid intended for the inmate "applicants" through Higher One, Inc. in the form of debit/MasterCard cards which she cashed or used for personal expenses totaling $124,821.

MICHELLE N. OWENS, Florence, SC, was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of federal student financial aid fraud, one felony count of mail fraud and one felony count of aggravated identity theft.

If convicted, student financial aid fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines up to $20,000; mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000 and aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory 2 years prison consecutive to the other penalties.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Postal Inspection Service and the Department of Education. Assistant United States Attorney Hal Goldsmith is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Last Modified: 12/30/2010