California schools conducted immigration scam, feds say

Three Los Angeles-area residents responsible for operating a network of four schools were arrested Wednesday morning on federal charges for allegedly helping hundreds of foreign nationals remain in the United States as foreign students, even though they never attended classes.

The three defendants allegedly ran a pay-to-stay scheme through three schools in Koreatown.

The three defendants are named in a 21-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury. The indictment alleges a conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, a host of immigration offenses and money laundering.

The indictment also contains an allegation that would require the defendants to forfeit property and proceeds derived from the fraud scheme, which investigators estimate took in as much as $6 million a year in tuition payments.

“Immigration fraud schemes potentially compromise national security and cheat foreign nationals who play by the rules,” said Acting U. S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “In this case, officials at several schools allegedly abused their responsibility to ensure that only legitimate foreign students were allowed to the stay in the country. This type of fraud against the United States will be thoroughly examined to bring those responsible to justice and to protect the integrity of our immigration system.”

Those named in the indictment unsealed today are:

* Hee Sun Shim (also known as Leonard Shim and Leo Shim), 51, of Beverly Hills, the owner and manager of the schools;

* Hyung Chan Moon (also known as Steve Moon), 39, of Los Angeles, who assisted with the operation and management of the schools; and

* Eun Young Choi (also known as Jamie Choi), 35, of Los Angeles, a former employee who assisted with the operation and management of the schools.

The defendants, who were taken into custody by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations,
are expected to be arraigned on the indictment today in U. S. District Court.

“Given the implications for national security and public safety, we will move aggressively to target individuals who compromise the integrity of our nation’s immigration system out of greed and self-interest,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles. “Simply put, those who exploit the benefits of the student visa program can expect to get a lesson in criminal justice.”

The investigation in this case began in 2011 after a compliance team from Homeland Security Investigations’ Student and Exchange Visitor Program  paid an unannounced visit to Prodee University’s main campus on Wilshire Boulevard. During the visit, the team observed only one English language class with three students in attendance, even though records for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System showed more than 900 foreign students were enrolled at Prodee’s two campuses. That same day, the team made an unannounced visit to another school where they found only one religion class in session with a single student present. At the time, records indicated that the school had more than 300 foreign students in active status.

During the ensuing investigation, special agents identified several dozen foreign nationals, primarily from South Korea and China, who originally entered the United States as non-immigrant students to attend other authorized schools, but subsequently transferred to schools in the suspect network. These students lived across the nation, indicating that they were not actually attending classes.

The indictment alleges that the schools issued immigration forms to foreign nationals who were not bona fide students, had no intention of attending the schools and lived outside of California.

As part of the conspiracy, Shim and Choi allegedly were involved in the creation of bogus student records, including transcripts, for some of the students for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. The indictment further alleges that Shim would transfer a purported student from one school to another to avoid arousing the suspicion of immigration authorities about students who had been in the United States for lengthy periods of time.

In exchange for the student designation, a foreigner would make tuition payments of as much as $1,800 to enroll for six months in one of the schools, according to the indictment.

The indictment charges Shim, Moon and Choi with conspiring to commit immigration fraud. Shim is charged with 13 counts of use or possession of an immigration document procured by fraud, and Moon and Choi are each charged with one count of the same offense. Shim is charged with three counts of encouraging illegal residence, as well as two counts of money laundering.

The conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. The substantive immigration fraud charges each carry up to 10 years in prison. The money laundering charges carry a potential penalty of 20 years.

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