SANTA ANA, Calif. - A Korea-born pastor who owns and operates a religious school in Fullerton, Calif., is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Wednesday to answer to charges that he used the school as a front for an elaborate student visa fraud scheme, going so far as to hand out phony diplomas and stage graduation ceremonies.
Samuel Chai Cho Oh, 65, owner of California Union University (CUU), surrendered to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents Tuesday morning. Oh, who also serves as pastor of the Union Church housed on the CUU campus, is accused in a criminal complaint of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, a confidential source familiar with Oh's business dealings alleged the pastor collected $40,000 to $50,000 a month in fees from foreign "students" who received Form I-20s from CUU certifying their eligibility for academic study. The Form I-20 enables prospective students to go to a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad and apply for a student visa. Until October, when its federal certification was revoked, CUU was authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to accept foreign students pursuing an education in religious and biblical studies, English as a Second Language (ESL) and Oriental medicine.
As part of the investigation, which began 10 months ago, ICE agents arrested and questioned more than 30 foreign nationals who stated they paid Oh fees ranging from $600 to more than $10,000 for documentation enabling them to fraudulently obtain student visas and, in some cases, bogus degrees. The "students" acknowledged they never attended class, nor did they ever see any teachers or students on the CUU campus. In the case affidavit, one witness, who purportedly received his bachelor's degree in education from CUU, recounted how Oh staged a graduation ceremony at the campus in May, where students clad in caps and gowns, laughed as they received their phony diplomas.
"Student visas are intended to give people from around the world a chance to come to this country to enrich themselves with the remarkable learning opportunities available here," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "If the allegations uncovered in this case prove true, it appears the defendant was interested in a different kind of enrichment, his own. ICE will aggressively pursue those who seek to exploit and corrupt America's legal immigration system for personal gain."
In October, ICE agents executed a search warrant at the school, seizing computers and more than 300 student files. A review of that evidence showed that while the majority of CUU's enrollees were Korean, the school's student body included foreign nationals from more than 20 countries.
"Our fraud detection officers work collaboratively with ICE to investigate fraudulent conduct that jeopardizes the integrity of our immigration system," said Martha Flores, acting district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Los Angeles. "This case is a great example of the success our collaboration can achieve."
In March, ICE agents and a compliance team from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) paid an unannounced visit to the CUU campus. At the time, CUU had more than 300 students on its rolls. According to the case affidavit, Oh conceded during that visit that three-quarters of the school's students did not attend class regularly and he could only produce course schedules for computer and ESL classes, even though the school was certified to accept foreign students in several other disciplines, including religious studies and Oriental medicine.
Oh, a naturalized citizen, faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison based solely on the single conspiracy charge alleged in the complaint. In addition to the criminal charge, ICE has seized more than $400,000 deposited in two separate bank accounts maintained by the defendant and an associate.
ICE officials stress the visa fraud probe is ongoing and agents are continuing to pursue numerous leads. The agency worked closely on the investigation with USCIS and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service. ICE also received assistance with the case from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Editor's note: A photograph taken following a CUU "graduation" ceremony earlier this year is available. The faces of the participants have been obscured. To obtain a copy, contact ICE Public Affairs at (949) 360-3096.