Used surrogate test-takers and ‘guaranteed’ foreign student admission into colleges
The second defendant named in a federal grand jury indictment surrendered Monday to face charges stemming from a scheme that used bogus transcripts, ghostwritten admissions essays, and imposters who took standardized tests to help foreigners gain admission to colleges, allowing them to fraudulently obtain student visas to enter or remain in the United States.
Yi Chen, aka “Brian Chen,” 33, of Monrovia, pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon to charges in a 21-count grand jury indictment that alleges conspiracy, visa fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Chen’s co-defendant — Yixin Li, aka “Eason Li” and “Calvin Wong,” 28, of San Gabriel — surrendered on March 2 and pleaded not guilty at an arraignment that afternoon.
The indictment alleges that Chen and Li owned “educational consulting” companies in Alhambra and Arcadia that charged foreign students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed” admission to a college that would lead to the issuance of an F-1 student visa. To secure admission to a school, the companies prepared application packages that used bogus or altered transcripts, and they hired people to impersonate the prospective student to take standardized tests, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
The indictment lists a number of foreign nationals for whom Chen and Li allegedly obtained, altered or fabricated transcripts, which helped the students obtain admission to schools across the United States, including New York University, Columbia University, Boston College, and several University of California campuses.
Once a foreign student was admitted to a college, the school issued a “Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students,” which provided the basis for a visa application or extension of permission to remain in the United States.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chen and Li are charged with conspiracy, which carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. They are also named in various counts of fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents, an offense that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Chen and Li are each charged with one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence that would run consecutively to any other prison term imposed in the case.
Chen and Li are linked to a group of imposter test-takers who were the subject of an earlier indictment that outlined how they used fake Chinese passports to take TOEFL exams on behalf of foreigners seeking college admissions and student visas. All six defendants in that earlier case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation.
During Monday’s arraignment, Chen was ordered detained pending trial, which was scheduled for May 4.
At Li’s arraignment last week, a United States magistrate judge set bond at $200,000, but he has yet to post bond and remains in custody. A trial date for Li was scheduled for April 27.
The case against Chen and Li, as well as the earlier case targeting the test-takers, was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security Section, provided substantial assistance. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL exam, provided assistance during the investigation.
The indictment against Chen and Li is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Matthew C. Chan and Assistant United States Attorney Julia Hu, both of the General Crimes Section.