Tracy Ann Rankin is one of the least credible defendants U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Erickson said he has ever sentenced.
Erickson called the 32-year-old former West Fargo day care operator a "pathological liar" and described her fraud scheme as "astonishing."
"I've never seen anything like it," he said Tuesday during a hearing to determine Rankin's penalty after earlier pleading guilty for defrauding five banks of more than $76,000 and stealing the identities of two friends.
Rankin will serve 18 months in prison, followed by four years of supervised release. She operated King of the Jungle day care, which closed in November 2008 due to several deficiencies. The abrupt closure left many parents scrambling to find daytime care for their children.
Rankin - whose married name is now Tracy Ann Roach - was charged in federal court three months later for the fraud scheme.
On Tuesday, Erickson knocked three months off of a 21-month sentence because Rankin paid $20,000 toward restitution.
She still has $37,583.91 left to pay the banks and individuals she swindled out of money. In addition, she must also pay a $66,103 penalty.
Court documents showed Rankin told numerous lies to manipulate friends into giving her sympathy - including claiming her son had died and that she had cancer.
She used the money for personal gain, not to aid her business, as she previously claimed.
"My conduct was wrong. I know that now, and I knew it when I did it," Rankin said before her sentence was handed down. "I will live with the shame for the rest of my life. ... I'm sorry my behavior has hurt so many people."
In court documents, Rankin said she trusted people she shouldn't have.
Rankin's attorney, Bruce Quick, argued that Rankin's criminal conduct was not reflective of her life.
"People are complex; these cases are complex," Quick said. "We're oftentimes missing a piece in the portrait."
However, Erickson said Rankin's acceptance of responsibility simply "reflects lip service" and she continues to deflect blame onto others.
"I don't see any acceptance of responsibility," Erickson said. "Rather than coming forward and saying, 'Look, my life is a lie. I've taken advantage of people my entire life, I accept responsibility,' we get some kind of fairytale."
Erickson added that Rankin used one person's identity "in a way where it was clear that she intended to stick it to him and she intended not to be accountable - period, end of argument. Then, to have her turn around and somehow say her problem is that she trusted folks just flies in the face of reality."
Erickson said the depth of her deceit and her lack of accepting responsibility merited a sentence more severe than requested by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase, who recommended Rankin serve 15 months.
Quick said he thought the sentence was reasonable and added: "She does feel sorry and remorseful."
Erickson will recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that Rankin serve her sentence in Waseca, Minn., near her current home in Hastings. She has until June 1 to report for her sentence.
"I told the victims in this case, they've really done a great service to the people that she comes in contact with in the future by warning them that the person in front of them isn't the person she says she is," Chase said.