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Document and Benefit Fraud

President of Bay Area university convicted in student visa fraud scheme

SAN FRANCISCO — Following a three-week trial, a federal jury Monday convicted the founder and former president of a Bay Area university of multiple federal criminal counts, including wire fraud, visa fraud, and money laundering, for her role in a large-scale visa fraud scheme involving foreign students.

Susan Xiao-Ping Su, 43, was found guilty on a total of 31 criminal counts, all arising from her position as the Chief Executive Officer and President of Pleasanton-based Tri-Valley University, described as "a Christian higher education institution." The charges are the result of a two-year probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Evidence at trial showed that Su engaged in a two-year scheme to defraud the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by submitting fraudulent documents in support of Tri-Valley University's petition for approval to admit foreign students. After obtaining such approvals, the university fraudulently issued visa-related documents to foreign students in exchange for "tuition and fees." In the petitions, Su made false representations to DHS regarding Tri-Valley University's admission requirements, graduation requirements, administrators, instructors, class transferability, and intent to comply with federal regulations.

Three purported Tri-Valley University professors testified they never authorized Su to use their credentials in connection with the school. Multiple Tri-Valley University employees testified the university had no requirements for admission or graduation, and that Su routinely instructed her staff to fabricate fraudulent transcripts.

In carrying out the scheme, Su made additional false representations to DHS through Tri-Valley University's use of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which the U.S. government uses, in part, to monitor the foreign student visa program. Through her false representations, Su was able to unlawfully obtain and issue F-1 visa-related documents without regard to the students' academic qualifications or intent to pursue a course of study required to maintain a lawful immigration status. The jury also convicted Su of harboring two Tri-Valley University student-employees to assist her in making the false representations to SEVIS. One of the harbored individuals testified that Su asked him to paint her house and move furniture.

Su made more than $5.9 million through her operation of Tri-Valley University and engaged in seven money laundering transactions using the proceeds to purchase commercial real estate, a Mercedes Benz, and multiple residences, including a mansion on the Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton.

HSI's probe of Tri-Valley University began in May 2010 after the agency received a tip regarding irregularities at the school. Su was indicted in November 2011 for wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer, and money laundering.

Su was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service following Monday's verdict. Her sentencing is set for June 20.

Assistant U.S. Attorney's Wade Rhyne and Hartley West prosecuted the case, aided by Noble Hughes, Janice Pagsanjan, and Rosario Calderon.

ICE's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) monitors approximately one million international students pursuing academic or vocational studies (F and M visa holders) in the U.S. and their dependents. It also certifies the schools and programs that enroll these students. The U.S. Department of State monitors exchange visitors (J visa holders) and their dependents, and oversees exchange visitor programs.

Both agencies use the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an Internet-based system, to ensure that students, visitors and schools comply with U.S. laws. SEVP also collects and shares SEVIS information with government partners, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, so only legitimate international students and exchange visitors gain entry into the United States.

Each month, HSI analyzes between 15,000 to 20,000 SEVIS records and refers cases with potential violations to its field offices for further investigation. HSI has reviewed more than two million records since SEVIS was introduced in 2003. Learn more about SEVP at www.ICE.gov/SEVP.