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Document and Benefit Fraud

Head of English language school pleads guilty to immigration fraud charges.

ATLANTA - A 47-year-old man pleaded guilty today in federal district court to conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to reside unlawfully in the United States, to manufacture immigration and government identification documents, and to make false statements under oath following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation.

According to information presented at court, Songwoo Shim, of Lawrenceville, Ga., submitted a fraudulent I-17 petition to Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), supported by letters supposedly issued by three educational institutions of higher learning. SEVP provides approval and oversight to schools authorized to enroll nonimmigrant students. Non-accredited educational institutions seeking SEVP certification must submit letters from three institutions that are accredited by the United States Department of Education stating that the institutions have accepted transfer credits unconditionally on behalf of the students. The three letters submitted by Shim in support of the I-17 petition for Humana Language Learning Center (HLLC) were forged or fraudulently obtained without the knowledge of the accredited institutions that supposedly issued the letters. In July 2006, DHS awarded SEVP-approved status to HLLC in Duluth, which Shim managed and operated, based on the fraudulent I-17 petition he submitted.

After Shim fraudulently obtained SEVP certification for HLLC, he and other individuals acting in concert with him, or at his direction, began facilitating the issuance of F-1 student visas to foreign-born individuals who were not eligible for those visas. Shim, or persons acting at his direction, manufactured and provided false documents, including resumes, school transcripts, diplomas, financial plans and statements, and I-94 forms, to the aliens to be used in support of applications for F-1 nonimmigrant student status. Shim did maintain document labs with computer equipment and files, first in an apartment in Alpharetta and then at an apartment in Duluth, where the fraudulent documents were manufactured. Although HLLC reported to DHS that it had enrolled hundreds of students, the vast majority of the aliens who obtained F-1 status never attended HLLC. Shim charged the aliens thousands of dollars, purportedly as tuition payments, but actually for the fraudulent documents he provided them for the purpose of obtaining F-1 status.

"ICE strives to protect the integrity of our immigration system from those who attempt to abuse it by detecting and dismantling these fraud schemes," said Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Atlanta. "Disrupting these types of operations is crucial to stopping dangerous criminals and even potential terrorists from fraudulently entering the U.S. and obscuring their identities. ICE is committed to continue working with its law enforcement partners to identify arrest and prosecute those who violate our laws. Those who engage in illegal activity should know that we will hold them accountable for their actions."

"This defendant quickly pleaded guilty, and for good reason," said U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias. "The investigation clearly showed that he fraudulently obtained approval from the Department of Homeland Security to operate an English language school, by submitting an application that contained false statements and that was supported by fraudulent documents. Then he used the school as a front for his real business: manufacturing and selling fraudulent immigration documents to dozens of so-called students, most of whom never attended the school, and who were not legally entitled to remain in the United States. Now he will face federal prison."

Shim was indicted in April 2009. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. He could receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.

Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 10, 2009 before United States District Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr.

Assistant United States Attorneys Teresa D. Hoyt and Stephen H. McClain are prosecuting the case.