NEW YORK – Three senior executives of privately owned for-profit schools, pleaded guilty April 30 to criminal conspiracy charges for their involvement in student visa fraud and financial aid fraud schemes. The guilty pleas resulted from a long-term investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the United States Department of State’s Diplomatic Security (DSS), and Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General (ED-OIG).
Suresh Hiranandaney, 61, Lalit Chabria, 54, and Anita Chabria, 50, each pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy to commit student visa fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit student fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit student financial aid fraud. Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison. The defendants’ sentencing date is scheduled for Sept. 10.
The defendants, whom HSI special agents arrested in May 2014, have agreed to forfeit $7,440,000 of proceeds of the student visa fraud conspiracy to the U.S. government, and agreed to pay $1,000,000 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Education for losses from the student financial aid fraud conspiracy.
The defendants were associated with the Micropower Career Institute (MCI), a for-profit school with five campuses in New York and New Jersey, or the Institute for Health Education (IHE), a for-profit school located in New Jersey. Suresh Hiranandaney was MCI’s President; his brother-in-law, Lalit Chabria, was MCI’s Vice President and IHE’s President; and his sister, Anita Chabria, was MCI’s Vice President.
Foreign citizens are granted F-1 student visas to remain in the United States as long as they are pursuing full courses of study at approved schools. If a student fails to attend classes as required, the school is required to inform immigration authorities so that the authorities may terminate that student’s visa. Suresh Hiranandaney, Lalit Chabria, and Anita Chabria failed to report to immigration authorities that foreign citizens were not attending classes at MCI and IHE as required.
The defendants and others fraudulently portrayed MCI and IHE to immigration authorities as legitimate institutes of higher learning where foreign students carried full course loads. In reality, the majority of foreign students at MCI and IHE did not attend the required number of classes. Suresh Hiranandaney, Lalit Chabria, and Anita Chabria failed to report this to immigration authorities as required, while MCI and IHE continued to collect millions of dollars in tuition from foreign students with delinquent attendance. When a campus of MCI came under regulatory scrutiny, the defendants and others transferred foreign students with delinquent attendance to affiliated schools (such as another MCI campus or IHE) that were not under scrutiny.
In another scheme, Suresh Hiranandaney, Lalit Chabria, Anita Chabria, and others falsified documents in student financial aid files at MCI in order to hide MCI’s failure to timely return financial aid funds received by MCI for domestic students who had dropped out of MCI. In violation of federal laws and regulations governing the administration of financial aid payments to eligible low-income students, MCI failed to return to the Department of Education substantial sums of financial aid funds that was disbursed to MCI for domestic students who dropped out of MCI without an authorized leave of absence. Specifically, the defendants and others falsified student files by altering documents in the files, or in some cases creating entirely fabricated documents, to conceal MCI’s failure to return such funds to the Education Department to avoid termination of MCI’s eligibility for future financial aid funds.
The remaining defendants, Samir Hiranandaney, 28, and Seema Shah, 42, face pending criminal conspiracy charges that are contained in the indictment in this case. The charges against Samir Hiranandaney and Seema Shah are merely accusations and these defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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 United States and their dependents. It also certifies 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 use SEVIS to protect national security by ensuring 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.
HSI reviews SEVIS records for possible violations and refers cases with potential national security or public safety concerns to its field offices for further investigation. Additionally, SEVP’s Analysis and Operations Center reviews student and school records for administrative compliance with federal regulations related to studying in the United States.
Learn more about SEVP at www.ICE.gov/SEVP.