U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
District of Minnesota
District of Minnesota
For Immediate Release
January 25, 2012
B. Todd Jones, United States Attorney
Contact: Jeanne F. Cooney, Director of Community Relations
Federal Grand Jury Returns Indictments
Madison, Wisconsin — A federal grand jury in the Western District of Wisconsin, sitting in Madison, returned the following indictments today. You are advised that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Three Charged With Mall Fraud, Identity Theft, and Student Financial Aid Fraud
Nicole Griffin, 49, Richard Griffin, 35, both of Prior Lake, Minn., and Maria Hurt, 35, Galesburg, Ill., are charged in a 19–count indictment with devising and participating in a scheme to fraudulently obtain federal student financial aid by falsifying student loan applications. It is alleged that between August 2003 and January 2010, the defendants fraudulently used in excess of 50 persons’ personal identifiers and defrauded the United States of more than $400,000.
All three defendants are charged with 12 counts of mail fraud. Nicole Griffin is charged with two counts of identity theft and five counts of student financial aid fraud. Richard Griffin is charged with two counts of identity theft and four counts of student financial aid fraud. Hurt is charged with one count of identity theft and two counts of student financial aid fraud. Nicole Griffin and Richard Griffin are married.
The indictment alleges that Nicole Griffin fraudulently applied for federal and state student financial aid at schools in Minnesota by falsifying her own eligibility for financial aid. In addition, it alleges that Nicole Griffin also took the personal identifiers of various persons, including their social security numbers, or recruited other persons to provide this information to her, which she used to fraudulently apply for and receive federal student financial aid in the name of the other persons.
The indictment alleges that Maria Hurt, upon the request of Nicole Griffin, stole and improperly appropriated the personal identifiers of various persons, including their social security numbers, and provided those to Nicole Griffin, who used the identifiers to apply for and obtain federal student financial aid in the name of those persons.
The indictment alleges that Richard Griffin recruited persons to voluntarily provide personal identifying information to Nicole Griffin, which was then used to fraudulently obtain federal student financial aid. It is also alleged that Richard Griffin deposited financial aid checks, that contained forged endorsements, into accounts controlled by him, and also recruited persons to deposit financial aid checks containing forged endorsements into their personal accounts and to provide him with part of the money.
The crimes alleged in this indictment take money from hardworking taxpayers and legitimate students, said Thomas D. Utz, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Central Regional Office.
OIG is committed to fighting student financial aid fraud and we will continue to aggressively pursue those who participate in these crimes.
The investigation and prosecution of fraud against the United States is a top priority of the U.S. Department of Justice, said John W. Vaudreuil, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.
I commend the diligence of OIG in the investigation of this case and share their commitment to hold the perpetrators of student financial aid fraud responsible for their crimes.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for each mail fraud count, two years in federal prison for each identity theft count, and five years for each count of student financial aid fraud. The charges against them are the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General. The prosecution of this case has been assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter M. Jarosz.
Fort Atkinson Man Charged with Illegal Possession of Firearms
Christopher L. Muckleroy, 27, Fort Atkinson, Wis., is charged with being a felon in possession of firearms. The indictment alleges that on September 15, 2011, he possessed a .223 caliber rifle and a .40 caliber handgun.
If convicted, Muckleroy faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. The charge against him is the result of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Fort Atkinson Police Department. The prosecution of this case will be handled by United States Attorney John W. Vaudreuil.
Superior Resident Charged with Possession of Child Pornography
Timothy D. Urbanski, 49, Superior, Wis., is charged with possessing a DVD+RW containing visual depictions of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. The indictment alleges that he possessed the DVD+RW on July 26, 2011.
If convicted, Urbanski faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. The charge against him is the result of an investigation by the Superior Police Department. The prosecution of this case has been assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman.
La Crosse Man Faces Additional Drug Charges
Allen Smith, 29, La Crosse, Wis., is charged in a superseding indictment with two counts of possessing crack cocaine with intent to distribute, and three counts of distributing crack cocaine. In an indictment returned by the grand jury on September 7, 2011, he was charged with distributing crack cocaine on July 8, 12 and 14, 2011. The superseding indictment returned today also alleges that Smith possessed crack cocaine with intent to distribute on July 8 and 12, 2011.
If convicted, Smith faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on each count. The charges against him are the result of an investigation by the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department, La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department, and West Central Drug Task Force. The prosecution of this case has been assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul W. Connell.