Former inmate files for $467,500 in illegal student loans

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - A former inmate of Leath Correctional Institution may be going back to jail.

Michelle Owens, 35, of Florence, pled guilty to one count of federal student financial aid fraud and one count of mail fraud in federal court Monday.

Owens, who was confined at Leath from December 2007 to September 2008, has been using the names and personal information of inmates she knew in prison to enroll them into Webster University, and receive their financial aid.

Owens was able to recover inmate's personal information because she worked in the prison's Education Department.

According to court documents, from Dec. 2007 to Oct. 2009, Owens submitted online applications for admission to Webster University's distance learning program under the names of 23 inmates at Leath without their knowledge. Owens then completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) either by computer over the internet of by paper application under the inmate's names.

Owen's applications where approved for a total of approximately $467,500.

Once Webster University received documentation from the FAFSA saying the "applicants" were approved, Webster mailed the award notification to an address in South Carolina owned by Owens. Owens received the excess financial aid intended for the inmate "applicants" in the form of debit/MasterCards, which she cashed or used for personal expenses totaling $124,821.

United States District Judge R. Bryan Harwell accepted the plea and will impose sentence after he has reviewed a presentence report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

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