Four Southland residents were among five people arrested Tuesday on federal charges involving an alleged scheme to help Chinese nationals obtain student visas by hiring people who used fake Chinese passports to take an English proficiency test for the foreign students.
A 26-count indictment returned Friday by a Los Angeles federal grand jury alleges conspiracy, the use of false passports and aggravated identity theft as part of the scheme to impersonate Chinese nationals who were required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language to obtain a student visa, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The defendants taken into custody without incident on Tuesday were identified as:
— Liu Cai, 23, of Woodland Hills, who allegedly facilitated the scheme, took at least five TOEFL exams himself and is living in the United States on a student visa;
— Quang Cao, 24, of San Francisco, who allegedly took at least four TOEFL exams with false identification, and who was arrested Tuesday in Stockton;
— Elric Zhang, 24, of Los Angeles, who allegedly took at least five TOEFL exams as part of the scheme;
— Mohan Zhang, 24, of Cerritos, who allegedly took at least two TOEFL exams under the names of foreign nationals; and
— Samantha Wang, 24, of Corona, who allegedly took at least two TOEFL exams.
The four Southern California defendants were expected to be arraigned on the indictment late Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court. Cao was expected to make an initial appearance in the Eastern District of California.
The sixth defendant in the case — Tuan Tran, 33, who allegedly took at least one TOEFL exam with a false identification document — is believed to be in Taiwan, federal officials said.
The United States requires foreign citizens who wish to enter the country on a temporary basis to study at a college or university to first obtain an F-1 student visa. To obtain a student visa, foreign citizens must first apply to study at a school that has been authorized by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program to enroll foreign students.
In the United States, many SEVP-certified schools require foreign citizens whose first language is not English to certify proficiency in English by achieving a particular score on the TOEFL. When the foreign national goes to a TOEFL testing location, the test taker must present an original, non-expired, government-issued identification document recognized by their home country.
The indictment alleges that all six defendants used counterfeit People’s Republic of China passports to impersonate 19 different Chinese nationals at various TOEFL testing locations in and around Los Angeles. The indictment further alleges that Cai paid for and registered 14 Chinese nationals for TOEFL exams over a one-year period in 2015 and 2016. Following the tests, Cai allegedly paid three co-defendants about $400 per test from his PayPal and Venmo accounts.
The conspiracy count carries a sentence of up to five years in federal prison. The charge of using a false passport carries a possible maximum of 10 years. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory consecutive two-year sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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