Atty of California. Gen. Rob Bonta on Tuesday announced charges in an alleged multimillion-dollar student debt relief scam that prosecutors say has robbed more than 19,000 victims in less than three years.

The alleged scam boss Angela Mirabella owned a network of Orange County-based debt relief companies that operated call centers that promised to reduce or eliminate federal debt from loans. students, Bonta said. Prosecutors charged Mirabella, along with four call center managers and two sales agents, of stealing more than $ 6,130,000 from victims, including 3,000 who lived in California.

An Orange County grand jury this month indicted Mirabella, along with co-defendants Cesar Sandoval-Vilchis, Stephen Gamboa, Briana Graham, Matthew Walsh, Teresa Lovato and Paulina Pacheco, on charges such as the grand theft under false pretenses, unauthorized use of personally identifiable information, and unauthorized computer access and fraud. Mirabella faces special money laundering allegations totaling over $ 2.5 million and aggravated white collar crime.

It was not immediately clear who represented the accused.

“Our students have worked hard to achieve their college dreams, but for some their dreams have turned into horrible nightmares,” Bonta said at a press conference. “They were swindled; they were ripped off.

According to prosecutors, between 2017 and 2020, Mirabella’s sales agents contacted around 380,000 student loan borrowers. The agents claimed to be associated with the US Department of Education and told borrowers they could enroll them in programs that would lead to debt cancellation, Bonta said.

If borrowers hesitated, prosecutors said, officers would pressure victims by saying their offers were on for a limited time and there was no other way to get student loan forgiveness.

Call centers have also reportedly used personal identifying information that borrowers disclosed to make changes to their federal student aid accounts without their permission.

Each victim paid or was required to pay the call centers an upfront fee and a monthly fee of more than $ 1,000 for the services, prosecutors said. Most of them mistakenly thought that the payments were going to their student loan debt, which caused many of them to stop making monthly payments on their student loans, resulting in late notifications of higher payment and loan balances.

Bonta said student loan borrowers can contact for free legal help. He pointed out that the Department of Education does not charge borrowers a fee to qualify for loan cancellation programs or to change repayment plans.

“If you are accused of all of this, you could be the victim of a scam, and we want to hear from you,” he said.