A former USC admissions official who accepted thousands of dollars in payments to ensure graduate school admission for unqualified international students pleaded guilty Monday to a federal fraud charge.
Hiu Kit David Chong pleaded guilty via videoconference to a single wire fraud count, a felony carrying a penalty of up to 20 years behind bars. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 31.
Chong, a 36-year-old Arcadia resident, admitted in his April plea agreement that he falsified applicants’ admission packets with doctored college transcripts, phony letters of recommendation and fraudulent personal statements.
As the assistant director of USC’s Office of Graduate Admissions from September 2008 to March 2016, Chong told Chinese nationals he could assist them in obtaining admission into a graduate degree program at the university. He furthered the scheme by operating a now-defunct Monterey Park academic consulting company, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
From February 2015 to December 2018, Chong solicited and received payments — ranging from $8,000 to $12,000 — from unqualified international students or from others who were acting on behalf of the unqualified students, court documents show.
The defendant purchased phony college transcripts purporting to be from Chinese universities and instructed his supplier to create transcripts to show falsely inflated grade point averages, prosecutors said.
Chong admitted he submitted the phony documents in the students’ USC application packets, including fraudulent letters of recommendation and fabricated personal statements purportedly written by the applicants.
He also offered to research how to arrange for a surrogate test taker to take the English as a Foreign Language exam, the results of which USC would consider when making decisions regarding admissions applications. In his plea agreement, Chong admitted concealing from the university that the applicants paid him to facilitate their admission.
Chong also admitted to helping three unqualified international students gain admission to USC using phony application materials.
Chong said he was paid $38,000 from international students and people he believed were working with international students, including an undercover law enforcement official. He also received additional payments from other international students as part of the scheme, resulting in profits of $40,000, federal prosecutors said.
USC issued a statement in April saying the university cooperated with the federal investigation.
“Chong concealed these actions from the university and continued engaging in them for two and a half years after he left USC,” according to the university.