A Los Angeles man was placed on two years probation Thursday for his role in a scheme that used fraudulent passports to help Chinese nationals obtain student visas by using impersonators to take their English proficiency tests for them.
Elric Zhang, 25, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt to serve 50 hours of community service and pay a $6,000 fine.
Zhang was among six defendants charged with using doctored People’s Republic of China passports to impersonate various Chinese nationals at testing locations in and around Los Angeles.
Zhang — who pleaded guilty to a single count of use of a false passport — admitted taking five TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) exams in the names of others, earning a total of $2,000.
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 said dozens of Chinese nationals took advantage of the scheme and remained in the United States on fraudulently obtained student visas.
The scheme’s ringleader, Lui Cai, pleaded guilty in October to two felony counts of using a false passport. The Woodland Hills man is scheduled to be sentenced in February in Los Angeles federal court.
Cai and four other California residents were charged in March in a 26-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury. A sixth defendant who lives in Taiwan pleaded guilty to the false passports charge and is set to be sentenced in January.