The ex-owner of four Southland schools that enrolled hundreds of foreign nationals who fraudulently obtained immigration documents allowing them to remain in the United States as “students” — even though they rarely, if ever, attended classes — was sentenced Thursday to 15 months behind bars.

Hee Sun “Leonard” Shim, 54, of Beverly Hills, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu to forfeit to the United States about $500,000 in bank funds and cash that were seized by investigators.

Shim helped run a “pay-to-stay” scheme through 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. A fourth school in Alhambra, Likie Fashion and Technology College, was also involved in the scheme, which ran for at least six years.

Prodee and the other schools issued immigration documents to foreign nationals who were not bona fide students, had no intention of attending the schools, and sometimes lived outside of California.

The scheme was “sophisticated, extensive and lucrative,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilson Park wrote in sentencing papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.

As part of the conspiracy, Shim created bogus student records, including transcripts, for some of the students for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. In exchange for the immigration documents that allowed them to remain in the United States, the purported students made “tuition” payments to Shim and his co-conspirators to enroll and remain enrolled at the schools, according to Shim’s plea agreement.

The investigation began in 2011 after a compliance team with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 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 indicated more than 900 foreign students were enrolled at Prodee’s two campuses. That same day, an unannounced visit to the forensic studies college found only one religion class in session with a single student present, even though the school had more than 300 foreign students in active status.

Shim faced up to 15 years in federal prison as a result of his February 2017 guilty plea to conspiracy and immigration document fraud. Defense attorney Michael Schafler wrote in court papers that Shim faces the likelihood of deportation to his native Korea following his release from federal prison.

Shim has “acknowledged his failures and wrongdoing” and feels “great remorse to this day,” Schafler wrote.

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