Thirteen people pled guilty this month to federal charges involving student loan fraud in the Walterboro area, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said Wednesday.

The pleas to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and student financial aid fraud, were entered in federal court in Charleston. U.S. District Judge David C. Norton accepted the pleas and will impose sentences after reviewing pre-sentence reports. Each defendant could be fined $250,000 and/or sentenced to five years in prison, plus a special assessment of $100, Nettles said.

He said the conspirators caused at least $689,000.00 of student loans and grants to be disbursed in the names of ineligible individuals.

Entering pleas in May were: Sierria Thomas, 24, of Green Pond; Mayella Saxon, 52, of Fairfax; Helen Ross, 41, of Williston; Latanya Cochran, 41, of Orangeburg; Marvin Spell, 49, of Yemassee; Kourtney Fishburne, 27, of Orlando; and Deena Holmes, 39, Shanean Glaze, 32, Tameko Fishburne, 29, Marquita Fishburne, 28, Cleo Fryar, a/k/a Cleo Cooper, 39, Lena Gant, 48, and Shannon Fishburne, 32. All are from Walterboro.

Nettles said evidence presented at hearings established that individuals known as “straw students” were recruited and told they could get thousands of dollars in student financial aid without having to take online college courses. The conspirators were paid through “fees” taken from the student aid credit balance refund checks received by the straw students.