A Woodland Hills man was sentenced Thursday to probation for helping operate a scheme that raked in thousands of dollars by recruiting impostors to earn passing grades in English proficiency for Chinese nationals seeking student visas.
Liu Cai, 25, was the last of six defendants to be sentenced in the case in which doctored People’s Republic of China passports were used to impersonate Chinese nationals at testing locations in and around Los Angeles.
Along with two years’ probation, Cai was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
The UCLA graduate, who is living in the United States on a student visa, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court last year to two counts of using a false passport and agreed not to oppose deportation. According to his lawyer, Cai has purchased a one-way ticket to his native China and is set to depart on Jan. 5.
Cai “admits that he was motivated by money, and regrets lacking the strength of character to say no when approached initially to commit this crime,” his lawyer wrote in sentencing papers.
Cai took at least five TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) exams in the names of others. Prosecutors said he and his co-defendants were paid between $400 and $800 by unidentified China-based brokers for each passing score.
It is unclear how much money was paid to the brokers by the dozens of Chinese nationals who took advantage of the scheme.
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.
Cai and five others were charged in March 2019 in a 26-count indictment. Each defendant pleaded guilty to the passports charge and received two-year probationary sentences.