GREENVILLE — Lisa Henson got some satisfaction from facing the thief who used her missing niece's identity to scam her way into an Ivy League school.
"You in no way are, or were, similar to the loving girl we all knew," Henson told Esther Reed about her niece, Brooke Henson. "Nothing can bring our Brooke home, but to know that you are not violating her now gives our family a sense of relief."
Reed was sentenced Wednesday to more than four years in federal prison for stealing multiple identities and faking documents to gain entry to three colleges, including Columbia University under Brooke Henson's name. Authorities do not believe Reed had anything to do with the South Carolina teenager's disappearance in 1999 in a case that is still open.
Reed pleaded guilty in August to federal fraud and identity theft charges and asked for mercy at her sentencing, contending she sought a made-up world to escape a difficult family life.
"I was desperate to escape an environment I felt I could not survive," Reed said, speaking in a strong voice as she stood before the judge in handcuffs, leg shackles and red prison jumpsuit.
It was the first time the 30-year-old Montana woman had voiced her reasons for juggling at least six identities and fooling officials at Columbia, Harvard and California State University at Fullerton with fake documents.
"I accept full responsibility," she told U.S. District Judge Henry Herlong.
Reed, of Townsend, Mont., was able to fake Henson's identity in part because her long brown hair and build somewhat resembled the 19-year-old, who disappeared after a Fourth of July party.
Lisa Henson said Reed clearly had shown no regard for the feelings of her missing niece's family. "She's shrewd, but I don't think she's going to change," Henson said, shaking her head.
Reed began posing as Henson in October 2003, obtaining an ID card in Ohio using the Travelers Rest woman's information. Two months later, Reed took a high school equivalence test in Ohio using Henson's name and received a degree.
She used Henson's name to get student loans up to $100,000 and to submit an SAT score of 1400, which the highly intelligent Reed earned on her own, investigators say.
In a court filing Friday, Reed had argued that a too-strict family upbringing, the separation and divorce of her parents, her mother's cancer death and a "very neglectful, controlling and emotionally abusive" elder sister who "repeatedly told her she was evil," had contributed to her depression and anxiety disorders.
Reed made the same plea to Herlong, trying to persuade him to show leniency in her sentencing. He dismissed the argument as "creative" and ordered Reed to spend 51 months behind bars, pay $125,000 in restitution, and be monitored for three years following her release from prison.
U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins said the government was satisfied with the result of the case.
Herlong said Reed was physically and mentally fit enough to work to pay off her fines in $500 monthly payments.