Twenty-one people are in federal custody after allegedly conspiring with a fake New Jersey university run by Department of Homeland Security agents to fraudulently obtain visas for more than 1,000 people, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced Tuesday.
The suspects, from New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois and Georgia, worked as brokers, recruiters and employers for the foreign nationals, who themselves came from 26 different countries, authorities said. As part of the "pay to stay" scheme, they allegedly obtained false documents for their clients in exchange for kickbacks or commissions.
Federal agents arrested the suspects Tuesday, three years after Homeland Security agents created the fake University of Northern New Jersey in Cranford. The school had "no instructors or educators, it had no curriculum and no actual classes or educational activities ever occurred there," Fishman said.
The defendants were aware of that, according to prosecutors, but worked with undercover agents, posing as corrupt school administrators, to obtain fake documents so their clients could continue living in the U.S.
In one instance, a recruiter identified as 24-year-old Chaun Kit "Alvin" Yuen, of Rowland Heights, California, assured an undercover agent that he was aware no classes would be held.
"Laughing, he admitted that 'we've been doing this for years. … No worries,'" prosecutors said.
Yuen was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit.
Working through recruiting agencies in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York and Virginia, the defendants obtained false documents for 1,076 foreigners "All of whom were willing participants in the scheme," Fishman said.
"Virtually every defendant knowingly purchased fake documents from the undercover university, including fraudulent transcripts with made up classes and grades, diplomas, attendance sheets, student ID cards, sham receipts and even phony parking passes," he said.
Authorities did not arrest any of the foreign students who sought to take advantage of the scheme, although prosecutors said they would have their visa statuses revoked and could face deportation.
Some of the defendants also allegedly pushed the fake UNNJ administrators to create a fake IT program in order to create a paper trail for the recruiters to obtain false work visas.
All 21 suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud. All but two face an additional count of conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit. The other two suspects were charged with making false statements and H1-B Visa fraud.
Charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and making false statements carry a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine, if the defendants are convicted. Charges of conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and H1-B Visa fraud carry maximum sentences of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
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