A Beverly Hills man who owned and operated a network of four vocational schools pleaded guilty Thursday to running a fraud scheme to collect millions of dollars from foreigners who came to the United States on student visas but never studied.
Hee Sun “Leo” Shim, 53, entered his plea in Los Angeles federal court to felony counts of conspiracy and visa fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A June 5 sentencing hearing was set.
The enterprise — which may have generated as much as $6 million a year for Shim and two co-defendants — involved three schools in Koreatown: Prodee University/Neo-America Language School; Walter Jay M.D. Institute, an Educational Center; and the American College of Forensic Studies; and Likie Fashion and Technology College in Alhambra, authorities said.
Shim’s plea agreement requires him to forfeit property and proceeds derived from the scheme, prosecutors said.
The investigation began in 2011 after a compliance team from Homeland Security Investigation’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program paid an unannounced visit to Prodee’s main campus on Wilshire Boulevard. During the visit, the team observed only one English language class with three students in attendance, even though immigration records showed more than 900 foreign students were enrolled at the university’s two campuses.
That same day, investigators made an unannounced visit to the forensic studies school where they found only one religion class in session with a single student present. At the time, records indicated that the vocational school had more than 300 foreign students in active status.
During the ensuing investigation, HSI special agents identified several dozen foreign nationals, primarily from South Korea and China, who originally entered the country as non-immigrant students to attend other authorized schools, but subsequently transferred to schools in the Prodee network. These students lived across the nation, indicating that they were not actually attending classes at Prodee or the other schools.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy also involved 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 — who would pay as much as $1,800 to “enroll” for six months — 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.
Two Los Angeles men have pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case and are awaiting sentencing. Hyung Chan “Steve” Moon and Eun Young “Jamie” Choi assisted with the operation and management of the schools, prosecutors said.
–City News Service