Students who were signed up at Prodee University in 2011, the year Homeland Security agents began investigating the main campus in Los Angeles, probably would have graduated by now if anyone actually bothered going to classes.
But that’s not why they were enrolled.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced this week that three L.A. residents were arrested on federal charges for allegedly operating a network of four schools that let foreign students receive education extensions on their visas in exchange for “tuition.” The 21-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury alleges immigration fraud, money laundering and a bunch of other immigration offenses as part of a “pay-to-stay” scheme.
The schools allegedly issued Form I-20s, which indicate acceptance into a government-certified school as a full-time student, to foreign nationals who had no intention of attending the schools and often lived outside of Los Angeles. The school operators produced bogus student records and moved “students” who wished to remain in the country longer from one school to another.
Six months of “tuition” cost up to $1,800 and allegedly netted the operators $6 million a year. The schools’ 1,500 students were largely Korean and Chinese. The indictment says the students had entered the country on F-1 visas from Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and later transferred to the Prodee network.
Three of the schools—Prodee University/Neo-America Language School; Walter Jay M.D. Institute, an Educational Center (WJMD); and the American College of Forensic Studies (ACFS)—are in Koreatown. A fourth, Likie Fashion and Technology College, is in Alhambra.
The investigation began when a compliance team from SEVP dropped in on the Prodee campus for an unannounced spot check and found just three students. Prodee’s two campuses supposedly enrolled 900 students. A quick check that same day of ACFS found a single religion class with a lone student.
Four years later, the feds indicted owner and manager Hee Sun Shim (aka Leonard Shim and Leo Shim) of Beverly Hills, Hyung Chan Moon (aka Steve Moon) of Los Angeles and Eun Young Choi (aka Jamie Choi) of Los Angeles. They face decades in jail if convicted.
According to a press release, Homeland Security will “be seeking to withdraw the schools’ SEVP certification, which will bar the institutions from enrolling foreign students.”
SEVP monitors approximately 1 million international students.