2 Los Angeles-area men indicted in visa fraud scheme that used surrogate test-takers and ‘guaranteed’ foreign student admission into colleges
LOS ANGELES — The second defendant named in a federal grand jury indictment surrendered today to face charges stemming from a scheme that used bogus transcripts, ghostwritten admissions essays and imposters who took standardized tests to help foreigners gain admission to colleges, allowing them to fraudulently obtain student visas to enter or remain in the United States.
Yi Chen, aka “Brian Chen,” 33, of Monrovia, pleaded not guilty this afternoon to charges in a 21-count grand jury indictment that alleges conspiracy, visa fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Chen’s co-defendant – Yixin Li, aka “Eason Li” and “Calvin Wong,” 28, of San Gabriel – surrendered on March 2 and pleaded not guilty at an arraignment that afternoon.
The case against Chen and Li, as well as an earlier case targeting the test-takers, was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles and the Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service. Substantial assistance was provided by the HSI Beijing attaché, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security Section and the Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL exam.
The indictment alleges that Chen and Li owned “educational consulting” companies in Alhambra and Arcadia that charged foreign students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed” admission to a college that would lead to the issuance of an F-1 student visa. To secure admission to a school, the companies prepared application packages that used bogus or altered transcripts, and they hired people to impersonate the prospective student to take standardized tests, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
The indictment lists a number of foreign nationals for whom Chen and Li allegedly obtained, altered or fabricated transcripts, which helped the students obtain admission to schools across the United States, including New York University, Columbia University, Boston College and several University of California campuses.
Once a foreign student was admitted to a college, the school issued a “Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students,” which provided the basis for a visa application or extension of permission to remain in the United States.
Chen and Li are charged with conspiracy, which carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. They are also named in various counts of fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents, an offense that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Chen and Li are each charged with one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence that would run consecutively to any other prison term imposed in the case.
Chen and Li are linked to a group of imposter test-takers who were the subject of an earlier indictment that outlined how they used fake Chinese passports to take TOEFL exams on behalf of foreigners seeking college admissions and student visas. All six defendants in that earlier case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation.
During today’s arraignment, Chen was ordered detained pending trial, which was scheduled for May 4.
At Li’s arraignment last week, a U.S. magistrate judge set bond at $200,000, but he has yet to post bond and remains in custody. A trial date for Li was scheduled for April 27.
The indictment against Chen and Li is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s General Crimes Section.
HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.