Thousands of foreign “students” pay thousands of dollars each year for much-sought-after visas under the guise of attending U.S. “colleges” that are no more than sham diploma mills. It’s a lucrative business.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar sentenced Susan Xiao-Ping Su, the founder and former president of Pleasanton-based Tri-Valley University, to 16 years in federal prison and ordered her to forfeit $5.6 million for running an immigration scam servicing mostly young people from India. The judge also ordered her to pay $900,000 in restitution.
Su, 44, exploited loopholes in the student visa system to secure permission from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for her unaccredited, for-profit Silicon Valley school to enroll foreign students while she disguised how many students she was collecting money from at any given time. It was around 1,500, although not a lot of them actually showed up for class or necessarily lived in the area.
That’s a good thing, because there weren’t really facilities to handle very many students. They were encouraged to take an illegal number of classes online and graded generously, which worked well for those who were just trying to establish an education credential while working fulltime.
Su started the Christian university in 2008 and received federal access to the F-1 student visa program the next year. Her application was approved, in part, because of working agreements with two other accredited schools, which turned out to be bogus. Tri-Valley had no requirements for admission or graduation . . . and flourished. She targeted Indian students who were eager to enter the U.S.
Her $5,000 investment was returning more than $4 million by 2010, according to government estimates cited by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Tuition was $2,700 per semester and Su claimed to have educated 5,000 students.
The university and Su’s home were raided by federal agents in January 2011 and she was charged shortly thereafter by the U.S. Attorneys Office with “31 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer, and money laundering.”
That was ban news for Su and not terribly good news for the students, hundreds of whom faced deportation and worse after Tri-Valley was forced to close. On January 28, 2011, students demonstrated over Tri-Valley at the U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad, India’s sixth largest city.
Judging by the consulate’s response, Indians weren’t just concerned about Tri-Valley’s behavior. They didn’t like having some of the students shackled with ankle monitors.
“Use of ankle monitors is widespread across the United States and standard procedure for a variety of investigations, and does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity,” the consulate general wrote. “It allows for freedom of movement and is a positive alternative to confinement during a pending investigation.”
Su may have received her own education in manipulating the F-1 system at unaccredited Herguan University in Sunnyvale, where she worked before opening her own shop. Herguan CEO Jerry Wang was named in a 15-count indicted by the federal government in 2012, charging him with “conspiracy to commit visa fraud; use of false documents; aggravated identity theft; and unauthorized access to government computers.” The school also targets Indian students.