Alaska woman who took on new identity to escape abuse pleads guilty in bizarre scam

By Mary Pemberton, AP
Thursday, April 1, 2010

Woman with 2 identities pleads guilty to fraud

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Rachel Yould is a former Rhodes scholar who took on a new identity under a federal program that helps rape and domestic violence victims hide from their tormentors.

But federal prosecutors say Yould used her new identity and life to defraud lenders out of more than $600,000 in student loan money that she used to play the stock market, buy a condo and launch a startup business.

Yould pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges Thursday in a bizarre case of deception and double identities.

Yould, 38, blamed her legal problems on bad advice she got from the Social Security Administration, but prosecutors say she is a schemer who used the program for victims of domestic violence and various government student loan programs to commit a sweeping fraud.

“This case has nothing to do with domestic violence. This case has to do with white-collar fraud,” Judge John Sedwick said Thursday.

Yould, born as Rachel Hall, claimed that she was sexually abused as a child, raped as a young woman and forced to go into hiding to elude an abusive father who was so relentless that she had to take out a restraining order against him. No criminal charges were ever brought against the father, however.

She found refuge thanks to a little-known federal program that lets people who are victims of domestic violence and harassment assume a new identity.

So in 2003, Rachel Hall officially became Rachel Yould, complete with new Social Security number.

By that point of her life, Yould had reached the lifetime maximum borrowing limit on one of her student loan programs after a long academic career, including Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships, undergraduate work at Stanford and graduate studies at Oxford.

She then began applying for huge student loans with her new identity, allowing her to circumvent the borrowing limit restrictions because the new Rachel had never borrowed in the eyes of lenders, prosecutors said. She claimed to be pursuing her doctorate in Oriental Studies from Oxford at the time.

Between August 2003 and May 2006, Yould obtained 19 student loans for nearly $680,000, prosecutors say.

The government says she intentionally misled lenders by giving them the impression that Rachel Hall and Rachel Yould were two separate people with two different Social Security numbers. On one loan she even used her old self — Rachel Hall — as a co-signer.

She falsely claimed on one loan application that she had an income at $24,000 a month and worked for the International Institute of Strategic Studies. In fact, she had been an unpaid intern.

Prosecutors say she used the money from school loans to invest in the stock market, to purchase an Anchorage condominium and to finance a startup journal called the Oxford International Review.

On March 7, 2005, a wire transfer in the amount of $237,975 was placed in a Smith Barney investment account in Hong Kong. She later liquidated the Smith Barney account and made approximately $55,000.

Yould and her husband were living in Japan at the time, and prosecutors say she forged letters to lenders purportedly from the vice president of a university there falsely describing her as a visiting research student in need of up to $155,250 for her education.

In 2006, Oxford notified Yould that her status as a graduate student had lapsed because she had not submitted her doctoral thesis or applied for an extension.

Despite the criminal charges, Yould has drawn sympathy from anti-domestic violence advocates who believe she has suffered enough in life and should not be prosecuted.

More than a dozen advocates attended the hearing. Afterward, Yould hugged some of them, and blew kisses across the courtroom to others.

Yould said very little in court beyond the 10 times she replied, “I plead guilty,” as the judge read each charge.

She could receive probation or be handed up to 200 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine when she is sentenced in June.

Yould spokeswoman Valerie Harris said the judge essentially left Yould without a defense when he refused to grant her more time to defend herself based on her history of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Yould says she suffers post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yould retained a team of Harvard Medical School doctors to help her with the defense, but prosecutors called it a “a veiled attempt to overwhelm the court with the grandeur of their pedigrees.”

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