A 33-year-old man pleaded guilty Thursday in Los Angeles to his role in a scheme to help Chinese nationals obtain student visas by hiring people who used fake passports to take their English proficiency tests for them.
Tuan Tran, who most recently lived in Taiwan, pleaded guilty in federal court to a single charge of use of a false passport, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Sentencing is set for Jan. 30.
In his plea agreement, Tran admitting to having taken at least one Test of English as a Foreign Language exam using a counterfeit passport in the name of a Chinese national seeking to remain in the United States on a student visa.
The fake passport bore Tran’s photograph, he acknowledged. Tran also admitted he was paid $400 once the passing score on the exam was registered.
Prosecutors contend that Liu Cai, 23, of Woodland Hills facilitated the scheme, took at least five TOEFL exams himself and is living in the United States on a student visa. Cai, who is awaiting trial, allegedly paid co-defendants $400 for each passing test they took after impersonating a Chinese national, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
To obtain a student visa, foreign citizens have to apply to study at a school authorized by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Many of those schools require foreign citizens whose first language is not English to certify proficiency in the language by getting a particular score on the TOEFL exam.
Prosecutors allege that dozens of Chinese nationals took advantage of the scheme.
Cai and four other California residents, along with Tran, were charged in March in a 26-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.
All six defendants allegedly 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.