SAN DIEGO - The former owners of a San Diego-area flight training school and the school itself pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations the school committed visa fraud and hired unauthorized foreign students as flight instructors.
Andrew Burr, 42, of Nevada, the ex-president of Anglo American Aviation, Inc, and Christopher Watson, 45, of San Diego, the company's onetime vice president, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges for hiring authorized workers. Anglo American Aviation, Inc., the flight school which formerly operated out of Gillespie Field in El Cajon, Calif., pleaded guilty to felony charges for making false statements and creating false visa documents in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
SEVIS is a federal government database used to maintain and track foreign students enrolled at academic and vocational schools in the United States.
The charges are the culmination of a two-year investigation by ICE and the Office of Inspector General from the Department of Transportation.
"It's abundantly clear why allegations of visa fraud by flight school operators would raise a red flag," said Joe Garcia, acting special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in San Diego. "The actions by the defendants in this case not only undermined the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, they also posed a significant national security risk."
According to ICE investigators, from August 2007 through October 2007, school officials issued visa documents in SEVIS for more than 100 foreign students. That despite the fact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had revoked the school's certification to train commercial pilots. Of that group, ICE investigators identified 53 foreign students who had entered the country using documents they obtained from Anglo-American Aviation.
During the investigation, ICE agents also determined the Anglo-American Aviation illegally hired 11 foreign students as flight training instructors between 2001 and 2008.
At the court hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Battaglia sentenced both of the school's former owners to five years probation for hiring illegal workers. The defendants also agreed not to participate in any educational institution that services or employs illegal workers or any educational institution that engages in flight training. In addition, the owners and the corporation will forfeit $250,000 from proceeds that represent the company's profits.
The corporation will be sentenced on the felony visa fraud charges June 21 before U.S. District Judge Michael M. Anello.