A federal judge sentenced a Billings woman to more than two years in prison Thursday for defrauding a bank and investors in a series of schemes that included a false claim her daughter had died of leukemia.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters rejected Angela Corson Smith's request for a more lenient sentence. Although Smith had no prior criminal record, Watters said the defendant's pattern of deceit was staggering in its scope and demanded stiff punishment.
Police in Billings investigated allegations that Smith posed as a nurse at Billings Clinic, but have not filed any charges in that matter. Watters said even after her conviction on bank and wire fraud charges, Smith has continued to dispute the hospital's contention that she had not worked there.
She pleaded guilty in January to one count each of bank fraud and wire fraud. Six other counts were dismissed under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
The federal charges were filed last June after Smith borrowed large sums of money from others and avoided repayment by lying about her health, the state of her marriage and her daughter, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Smith forged her husband's signature to take out a home equity loan from Billings-based Altana Federal Credit Union in October 2009.
When she was contacted by credit union employees in 2012 about payments on the loan, Smith convinced them her daughter had died of leukemia just a day earlier. The girl, now 15 years old, was never ill with the disease, according to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The wire fraud charge alleged she deceived others into investing $57,000 in a medical billing business that Smith never started. That scheme ran from September 2010 to January 2013.
Watters called the conduct "mind-boggling," and sentenced Smith to 27 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. The prison term was at the high end of federal sentencing guidelines.
She also was ordered to pay $151,000 in restitution to seven victims.
Smith "used her own daughter and claimed she had suffered from serious illness and died to get people to give her money," Watters said.
"That's one of the saddest circumstances in all this," Watters added as she was handing down the prison sentence. "Your daughter is also a victim."
Yellowstone County attorney Scott Twito said he would decide soon whether to bring additional charges related to Smith's posing as a nurse.
Smith told the court that she deeply regretted her actions in the frauds but has tried in recent months to turn her life around. She had been working as a taxi cab driver and was trying to save up money to repay her victims, her attorney said.
"I am not the person I was a year ago," she told Watters. "I would never allow myself back into that lifestyle."
Her public defender, Steven Babcock, requested a sentence of probation. Prosecutors requested three years in prison.
Smith waived her right to an appeal in the plea agreement.