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Document and Benefit Fraud
03/04/2010

Owner, employee of Miami language school charged with immigration fraud

ICE special agents also administratively arrest 81 student visa violators

MIAMI - The owner/operator of a Miami-based foreign language school and one of its employees were indicted on four counts today for conspiring to commit a criminal offense against the United States, following an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Miami Office of Investigations.

Miami residents Lydia Menocal, 58, the owner and director of the Florida Language Institute (FLI), and Ofelia Macia, 75, an employee of the school, are suspected of fraudulently sponsoring foreign students by issuing student status to non immigrants without requiring them to maintain a full course of study as mandated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) federal regulations. ICE investigations uncovered that only about 5 percent of FLI students attended class on any given day.

"This school was fraudulently facilitating the issuance of student visas, as well as allowing foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain their student status and remain in the United States," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami. "One of the lessons learned from the September 11 attacks is that the U.S. government must be vigilant and aggressive in conducting investigations into organizations and persons who seek to exploit and corrupt America's legal immigration system for personal gain."

In November 2007, ICE special agents assigned to the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami Compliance Enforcement Group initiated a criminal investigation dubbed, "Operation Class Dismissed," focused on Menocal and the FLI after they received information that the school was allegedly engaged in fraudulently sponsoring foreign students by issuing I-20 AB (Certificates of Eligibility for non-immigrant, F-1, student status for academics and language students) without requiring the students to attend at least 18 hours of classes per week, as they had agreed to do under federal regulations.

On February 26, Menocal and Macia, were indicted on charges of conspiring to commit an offense against the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. In addition, Menocal was individually charged with making false statements on immigration documents (which allowed foreign nationals to obtain student visas), and making false statements to an executive branch agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1546(a) and 1001(a)(2), respectively. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $2.4 million in cash, which represents the proceeds of the criminal activity.

On March 2, ICE special agents executed arrest warrants at the defendants' home and a search warrant at the school, located at 947 S.W. 87th Avenue, Miami, Fla. The defendants made their initial appearances in court the same day and U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff set bond for both defendants. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro.

If convicted, the defendants face up to five years imprisonment on the conspiracy charge, and Menocal faces up to 10 years imprisonment on the false statement charges.

In addition to the indictment, ICE conducted a three-day operation, which concluded Thursday morning, and resulted in the administrative arrests of 81 student visa violators that purported to be attending FLI from countries including Thailand, Syria, Honduras, South Korea, Japan, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Venezuela, Brazil and Kyrgyzstan, with the majority being from Thailand. Of those 81 arrested administratively, 39 were residing in Miami-Dade County, 27 in Broward County, nine in Palm Beach County, five in Bradenton and one resided in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Eighty individuals arrested remain in ICE custody pending immigration removal proceedings and one was processed for removal and released on her own recognizance. In these cases, ICE agents and officers exercise discretion by releasing aliens on orders of supervision.

Sloman commended the investigative efforts of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami with the assistance of ICE's Office of Detention and Removal in Miami. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roy K. Altman and Robert J. Luck.

An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/ or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov/ More information on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can be found at: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/index.htm.