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ANCHORAGE - A federal judge in Anchorage has set aside two days this week for a sentencing hearing for former Rhodes and Fulbright scholar Rachel Yould.
The 38-year-old has pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud and making false statements to get student loans. But she insists she used the money for her studies. She said she created a second identity to escape her father, who she says abused and stalked her.
Prosecutors say it was a scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $650,000.
Yould is a former Miss Anchorage who graduated from Stanford, went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and earned her master's degree in oriental studies, the Anchorage Daily News reports. By 2001 she had won a Fulbright scholarship to work on a doctorate, studying the Internet in Japan.
That same year, Yould found out she had reached the $60,000 lifetime cap in Alaska's student loan program. And she applied for a new Social Security number through a program intended to protect victims of domestic violence, the Harassment, Abuse & Life Endangerment program. It took her nearly two years to obtain the new number.
Yould says her troubles are rooted in sexual and physical violence she suffered as a child and into adulthood at the hands of her biological father.
Her lawyer argues that she shouldn't go to prison at all.
"As for just punishment, Rachel Yould has already been punished beyond any sentence the court can impose," federal public defender Rich Curtner wrote in a memorandum to U.S. District Judge John Sedwick ahead of the sentencing hearing set for Wednesday and Thursday.
"Her life has been on hold for four years. Her career is finished, her reputation is ruined, her former life in remnants. After all of her work and research, her doctorate is unobtainable. She faces a staggering debt she is committed to repay."
Between August 2003 and May 2006, while Yould was living in Japan, she obtained 19 student loans for almost $680,000, prosecutors say. They say her lies included telling lenders she was a medical student, forging documents from real academics, and listing her former name, Rachel Hall, on loan documents as a co-signer.
She parked some of the illegally gained money in an investment account, earning more than $50,000. With the rest, she started an international affairs journal.
And for much of the time the loan money was pouring in, she wasn't even in school and didn't incur tuition or other fees, prosecutors say.
Yould and her supporters say she created the second identity with government approval to hide from her father, who she says was stalking her. She used both names to get loans "on the explicit instruction of Social Security Administration personnel," Curtner wrote in his sentencing memo.
Yould wrote two long statements to the judge about her studies, the loans and her accusations against her father. But prosecutors challenge many of her assertions, and her father has never been charged criminally with sexually abusing her. The medical records provided to prosecutors don't include the sort of injuries she describes, assistant U.S. Attorney Retta-Rae Randall wrote in the prosecution's 120-page sentencing memorandum.
"The case is not about abuse, but about lies and greed," Randall wrote.