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Former West Fargo day care operator to be sentenced today on mail fraud charge

Tracy Rankin

Federal court documents depict a former West Fargo day care operator charged with fraud as a liar and manipulator who took advantage of the people around her.

Tracy Ann Rankin is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court this morning, where she'll be sentenced on a mail fraud charge that she pleaded guilty to last October.

Prosecutors are expected to request that the remaining seven counts against her - involving mail fraud, identity theft and witness tampering - be dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

While Rankin faces up to 30 years in prison, prosecutors will recommend a 15-month sentence, according to court papers filed last week.

Also as part of the plea agreement, Rankin will be forced to pay $66,103 in restitution, representing proceeds from the scheme.

Rankin's attorney Bruce Quick said she intends to pay as much restitution as she can at the hearing today.

Rankin - whose married name is now Tracy Ann Roach - owned King of the Jungle child care center in West Fargo until it abruptly closed in November 2008 because of several deficiencies.

The unexpected closure of King of the Jungle left several parents scrambling to find daytime care for their children.

In February 2009, federal prosecutors brought charges against Rankin and accused her of bilking five banks out of $76,183 in a scheme that involved stealing the identities of two people.

Rankin was accused of using the money to purchase personal items, such as horses, a horse trailer, a motorcycle and almost $2,000 worth of jewelry.

An additional charge of witness tampering was brought in June, accusing Rankin of threatening a government witness in the case against her.

In papers filed in Fargo's U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase said Rankin "told countless lies in an attempt to further her scheme and to avoid detection."

Rankin told court officials that her actions were "atypical" of the rest of her life, according to the memo.

But Chase wrote in detail about Rankin's alleged history of lies in attempts to gain sympathy from others, including lying about having various forms and severities of cancer, about her son being dead, about her daughter having chronic lupus and about her two previous husbands abusing her.

Rankin's criminal conduct "is not an aberration but rather very accurately depicts (her) entire adult life," Chase wrote. "(She) defrauded many people close to her ... by deceptively tugging at heart-strings for the purpose of building relationships to swindle them out of money."

Quick declined to comment on the memorandum, saying, "It's only fair to make my comments directly to the judge in court."

"She's pled guilty. She's accepted responsibility," he added.

According to the memo, Rankin also told court officials recently that she suffers from major depression and bipolar disorder - a claim not heard before by federal prosecutors.

Chase did not comment on the claim in his memo, writing that he wanted to review any documentation Rankin might provide at the sentencing hearing.