An Orange County business owner was behind bars Tuesday in what California Attorney General Rob Bonta said was a “nationwide, multi-year, multimillion-dollar student loan debt relief scam.”
Angela Kathryn Mirabella, 47, was being held without bail and was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in the jail courtroom in Santa Ana, according to jail records.
She was one of seven people indicted on a range of charges, including conspiracy to commit grand theft and unauthorized use of personal identifying information in a scheme that prosecutors say netted more than $6 million from an estimated 19,000 victims nationwide, including 3,000 in California.
Mirabella is the founder of The Mirabella Group LLC, located in Huntington Beach, as well as Student Renew LLC and My Financial Solutions, both of Newport Beach, according to a grand jury indictment.
The alleged scheme involved multiple call centers that “swindled” student loan holders with promises of debt relief for a total of $1,000 in fees paid monthly, Bonta said.
“They were swindled, they were scammed,” Bonta said.
“For some, their dreams have become horrific nightmares,” Bonta said.
The alleged victims paid the fee to gain debt relief, but did not receive any help and instead often ended up with higher student loan interest, defaults and late notices, Bonta said.
The defendants allegedly stole about $6.1 million, prosecutors said.
The student loan holders assumed their debt was now being handled by the companies and that the fees they paid went toward the loans, prosecutors said.
The alleged scheme operated between 2017 and 2020, Bonta said.
The call centers reached about 380,000 student loan holders.
“Teachers, nurses, single parents — folks from every walk of life,” Bonta said. “They pretended to be associated with the U.S. Department of Education and falsely guaranteed they could lower student loan payments.”
When some of the student loan holders grew “suspicious,” the callers “would apply pressure and fake deadlines and imply there was no other way to get debt forgiveness,” Bonta said.
In some cases, the defendants would extract personal identifying information to change the terms of their student aid without the consent of the victims, Bonta said.
Applying for student loan relief costs nothing through various legitimate governmental programs, Bonta said.
“If you’re being charged for any of this you may be a victim of a scam and we want to hear from you,” Bonta said.
Many of the victims were unaware they were scammed because they did not receive late-payment notices due to programs offering relief during the pandemic.
The other defendants include Cesar Sandoval-Vilchis, 35, Stephen Allen Gamboa, 39, Briana Nacole Graham, 35, Matthew Bruce Walsh, 27, Teresa Marie Lovato, 45, and Paulina Francine Pacheco, 32.
Gamboa pleaded not guilty Thursday and was ordered to return to court Oct. 15 for a pretrial hearing in the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.