MEDFORD, Ore.—A Southern Oregon woman is facing federal charges alleging she used her deceased spouse’s identity to fraudulently obtain more than $36,000 in federal student aid.
On October 6, 2022, a federal grand jury in Medford returned a nine-count indictment charging Cynthia Pickering, 55, of Central Point, Oregon with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and student loan fraud.
According to court documents, beginning in September 2017 and continuing though April 2019, Pickering is alleged to have devised a scheme to use her deceased spouse’s personally identifiable information to submit multiple applications for federal student aid and enroll her former spouse at three different colleges and universities in Oregon. These fraudulent applications caused the three colleges and universities—Eastern Oregon University, Rogue Community College, and Western Oregon University—to disperse $36,341 in federal student aid into Pickering’s personal checking account.
To conceal her scheme, Pickering attended online classes pretending to be her former spouse so that her spouse would remain eligible for the student aid. Pickering did what was necessary to pass first term courses at each institution and collect the funds.
On November 15, 2022, Pickering was arrested at her residence in Central Point. The next day, on November 16, 2022, she made her first appearance in federal court in Medford before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Pickering was arraigned, pleaded not guilty, and released pending a jury trial scheduled to begin on January 24, 2023.
Wire fraud and student aid fraud are punishable by up 20 years and five years in federal prison, respectively, per count of conviction. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by up to two years in prison consecutive to any other carceral sentence imposed.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General (ED-OIG). It is being prosecuted by John C. Brassell, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
If you or someone you know believe you are the victim of federal student aid fraud or are otherwise aware of student aid fraud being committed, please contact ED-OIG by calling 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733) or submit a tip online at https://oighotlineportal.ed.gov/eCasePortal/.