(AP Photo/Sheryl Davis )
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CBS/AP) Who is the real Rachel Yould? Is she a former Rhodes Scholar and Alaskan beauty queen who asked the government for help after surviving a childhood of sexual abuse and domestic violence? Or is she a schemer who fabricated a horrifying past in order to scam hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government?
(AP Photo/Brett Yould )
Photo: Rachel Yould, left, and husband, Brett Yould in Jan. 2008.
According to federal prosecutors, Yould is the latter, and they have indicted the Oxford University Ph.D. candidate on felony charges of mail and wire fraud and making false statements to influence a bank. She is going to trial next spring.
Photo: Rachel Yould, right, with Mother Teresa in India.
Yould's defenders contend that she was victimized twice, first as a child when she was raped, then again by overzealous prosecutors who have pursued her for using a Social Security Administration program designed to help victims of domestic abuse hide from their abusers.
They point out that the former Miss Anchorage has worked with Mother Teresa in India and has advocated for AIDS victims.
But federal prosecutor Retta-Rae Randall told the Associated Press that Yould brought the criminal charges on herself.
Randall says that after Yould, then known as Rachel Hall, reached the lifetime cap on several government-run education loan programs, she applied for a new Social Security number under the program for victims of domestic abuse. The new number was issued under the name Rachel Yould in July 2003, after she married Brett Yould, also from Anchorage.
Between 2003 and 2006, Randall says Yould used both names and Social Security numbers to sign for loans, even though Yould had reached the lifetime limit set by the government.
Prosecutors say Yould then lied to lenders to get even more loans. Tactics allegedly included falsifying pay stubs for herself and her husband and falsifying documents from Keio University in Japan, where she had been living and teaching at a university before returning with her husband, Brett, to answer the charges against her.
Prosecutors say she used her former name as her co-signer on a loan for $240,000. They say that on an application for a Smith Barney investment account, where the $240,000 ended up, Yould said that she worked for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the United Kingdom and made $525,000 a year.
But prosecutors contend that her only association with the institute was as an unpaid research assistant.
They say she also lied about her finances in order to buy a condominium in Anchorage and used a loan disbursement to put $3,789 in escrow and question whether she qualifies for a public defender.
They believe she and her husband are hiding assets, saying that Yould and her husband claimed a net worth of $1.7 million several years ago, and that both have reported significant incomes in recent years.
Yould and her public defender, Richard Curtner, declined comment but Yould's spokeswoman, Valerie Harris, says that Yould and her husband have exhausted their resources trying to pay off her student loans and that her legal situation is the result of a well-intentioned but ineptly-run government program.
"A lot of women fall into this trap that Rachel is now experiencing," said Harris, who heads the Save Amelia Campaign, a group that advocates for abuse victims who have received new Social Security numbers and are accused of wrongdoing.
Harris says that in 2003, Yould applied to the SSA program for victims of domestic violence and after a review of evidence of abuse was granted a new Social Security number under her married name.
"She was given a new identity, a new Social Security number and a new birth certificate - the whole nine yards," Harris said. The agency also told Yould it was not only OK to use both names and numbers, but also "told her she could apply for a loan using her old identity as a co-signer," according to Harris.
Harris said Yould never sought to have her abuser prosecuted because she was too ashamed and afraid. But her abuser relentlessly pursued her anyway, she said, using her credit card to track her down. A temporary restraining order was approved. A permanent one was denied. By 2002, she said was desperate and called the SSA to apply for a new identity.
All this was done over the phone, according to Harris.
A SSA spokeswoman, Dorothy Clark, says that domestic abuse victims who apply for new identities are interviewed in person and told that under no circumstances are they to ever use their old numbers or names.
"We are trying to maintain confidentiality," Clark says, and telling victims that can use their old identities defeats the purpose of getting the new identities.
Yould and her husband returned to Anchorage last February. She was indicted the following month. Each count of fraud carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, although Yould is unlikely to get the maximum if convicted because of her lack of a criminal record.