"Prosecutors say Rachel Yould, a former Anchorage Rhodes and Fulbright scholar, is a master manipulator who should spend six years in prison for misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. They say she should pay more than $800,000 in restitution.
Yould, despite her guilty pleas to 15 felony counts of federal mail and wire fraud and making false statements, says she is innocent and that the whole case is based on misunderstanding. Her troubles are rooted, she said, in the 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, but instead should be sentenced to probation so that she can repay what she owes.
The defense says her efforts to escape her father's reach led her to create a second identity for her own protection; prosecutors say it was a scheme to draw down more student loan money because she had reached her lifetime limit.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. Judge John Sedwick will decide her fate. The judge allowed two days for the hearing, noting 'the unprecedented volume of paper filed by the parties in anticipation of the sentencing.'
Whatever happens, the life Yould envisioned as a bright young scholar is gone.
'As for just punishment, Rachel Yould has already been punished beyond any sentence the court can impose,' her attorney, federal public defender Rich Curtner, wrote in his sentencing memorandum to the judge. '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.'
[So She Set Up A New Identity and Got a New SSN]
Yould, 38, is a 1990 Bartlett High graduate and 1996 Miss Anchorage, though she says she gave up the title so that another contestant could get the scholarship and travel benefits. She graduated from Stanford University with a 4.0 grade point average, then went to Oxford University in England as a Rhodes scholar, where she earned her master's degree in oriental studies.
By 2001, Yould had won a Fulbright scholarship and was working on her doctorate comparing the Internet in Japan to its counterpart in the United States. Her studies took her to Keio University 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.
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 a Smith Barney investment account and played the stock market, earning more than $50,000 on her investments. With the rest, she started a high-brow international affairs journal. At one point, she hired former Truman Scholars to interview people in Iraq.
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 sexually abused her and], whom 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.
In all, more than $650,000 of her student loan funds were obtained fraudulently, prosecutors said.
[Allegations of Sexual Abuse Against her Father]
Yould wrote two long statements to the judge about her studies, the loans and her accusations against her father. She wrote of genital mutilation, childhood rape, harassment and stalking. Her parents divorced when she was young and the abuse usually happened when she visited him, she wrote. Her lawyer calls her father a sexual sadist. She said she has internal injuries as a result of the abuse.
But prosecutors challenge many of her assertions, and her father has never been charged criminally with sexually abusing her. Once when she was a child, she blurted out to parents of the children next door that her father was beating her and hurting her in other ways, she said in a March statement filed in court. They scolded her for telling lies and called her father, she wrote. In an attempt to explain [in her sentencing statement] why she felt powerless to hold him accountable, she recounted one grisly and bizarre scene that she said haunts her more than the abuse itself.
She was a young woman visiting her father's home looking through her stuff in the basement when something caught her eye.
"I walked close and stared and then suddenly felt like a cosmic jolt had just vacuumed all of the air out of my chest," Yould wrote to the judge in a 150-page statement filed on Friday. "It was a hunk of desiccated flesh pinned to the wall and I knew from the approximate size and shape and just the nature of life in that house that it was mine. It was a piece of me pinned to the wall. I had had a portion of flesh pulled from my right hip in an event I will not even attempt to describe here, and there it was, pinned to the wall."
She [ . . . ] sought a restraining order against her father in 2002 after the Social Security Administration told her that one was typically provided as justification for a new Social Security number. While she won a temporary order, her request for a long-term protective order from an Alaska judge was denied since she was living in Japan and her father was in Georgia. But she didn't tell the Social Security officials that, prosecutors noted. Prosecutors say that Yould is the sole source of much of what she contends. 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.
The government never argued that she wasn't abused, Randall wrote. Rather, 'it requested corroboration when the details became more fantastical after Yould learned that she was under investigation. If Yould can fly all over the country for medical evaluations for her case, then she could have, at a minimum, provided the names of one or two hospitals from which records could be subpoenaed.'
In her statement, Yould disputes she was motivated by greed. She says she never lived lavishly and used the loan money for her studies. 'I have owned one car in my 38-year lifetime. It was the 1985 Honda Accord my parents bought when we moved to Alaska when I was 13 years old,' she wrote. Her wedding ring was her great-grandmother's. Most of their time in Japan, she and her husband lived in a 485-square-foot apartment. She says the prosecution will never believe her history of abuse because the police were never called, and there isn't much in the way of medical records from the time. Plus, with her academic success, she says she doesn't seem like the type of person who had been through so much.
By claiming to be a victim, [AUSA] Randall wrote, '[Yould] wrapped herself in an untouchable defense. It is a continuing manipulation of the court.'"
Believe what you wish to believe, but don't get too distracted. Rachel Yould committed faud and admitted it. Likewise, I evaded my tax obligations. The stories of our lives may or may not impact the disposition of our legal matters. My father was a child molester, and his violent and abusive behavior against me and my brothers created space for him to commit his crimes against my sisters and other young girls. Don't take my word for it, my sisters and other victims say so. I fled the family home, like my brother did before me at 17. I take my sisters' word for it--I should have taken the word of my sister, M. without doubting her. But I injured her with my doubt.
Rachel Yould may or may not have been a victim of sexual abuse; while I find her story beyond bizarre, many times over the years the most bizarre stories of child sexual abuse proved true. Clients would come to our office and describe something so strange, bordering on the unbelievable and then produce a letter in the hand of the perpetrator acknowledging the facts, or a cassette recording of a confrontation, pornographic photographs, or other evidence of bizarre inexplicable crimes by family members, clergy or close family friends.
Rachel Yould is a brilliant, educated, sophisticated woman, and, a convicted liar--now ask yourself, where did she learn her dark arts? Bet I can make an educated guess, bet you can too. The next question is, what disposition will deter her from further criminal activity? It's a mystery.