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November 2, 2014San Francisco, CA, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

Former Bay Area university president sentenced to more than 16 years in prison for visa fraud scheme

SAN FRANCISCO – The founder and former president of a Bay Area university was sentenced Friday to 198 months in prison for orchestrating a large-scale student visa fraud scheme that generated nearly $6 million in profits which the defendant used to purchase real estate and luxury vehicles.

Susan Xiao-Ping Su, 44, of Pleasanton, appeared in court before U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar. In addition to the prison term, Judge Tigar ordered Su to forfeit $5.6 million in proceeds generated by the fraud scheme and pay more than $900,000 in restitution. The case is the result of a probe by the multiagency Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

"Every year our country welcomes academically qualified students from all over the world to learn from our country’s best and brightest," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. "The defendant’s scheme took advantage of this highly valuable immigration process, reducing opportunities for legitimate, worthy student applicants. The conviction and sentence in this case demonstrate our resolve to work closely with HSI to ferret out and bring to justice those who choose to engage in immigration fraud."

In March, following a three-week trial, Su was convicted of 31 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, making false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer and money laundering.

"This sentence should leave no doubt that there are serious consequences for those who exploit our legal immigration system for personal gain," said Tatum King, acting special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "Student visas are intended to give people from around the world a chance to come to this country to enrich themselves with the vast learning opportunities available here, but in this case the defendant was interested in a different kind of enrichment, her own. Our message is simple – America’s legal immigration system is not for sale and HSI will move aggressively against those who compromise the integrity of that system and put our country’s security at risk simply to turn a profit."

During the trial, evidence showed that Su engaged in a two-year scheme to defraud the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by submitting fraudulent documents seeking to admit foreign students to Tri-Valley University and, after obtaining DHS approval, fraudulently issuing visa-related documents to foreign students in exchange for "tuition and fees." In the school’s student visa petitions, Su made false claims about the university’s admission and graduation requirements.

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

As part of the scheme, Su also made false representations to DHS through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which the U.S. government uses to monitor the student visa program. Through those false representations, Su was able to unlawfully obtain F-1 visa-related documents regardless of students’ academic qualifications or their course of study. In furtherance of the scheme, Su was also convicted of harboring two Tri-Valley University student-employees to assist her with making the false representations to SEVIS. One of the harbored students testified Su also requested him to paint her house and move furniture.

Su made more than $5.6 million through her operation of the school and engaged in seven money laundering transactions using the proceeds to purchase commercial real estate, a Mercedes Benz car, and multiple residences, including a mansion on the Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton, each in her name.

The probe began in May 2010 after HSI received a tip about purported irregularities at the university.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wade Rhyne and Hartley West, aided by Noble Hughes, Janice Pagsanjan and Rosario Calderon.