By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three Los Angeles-area men who prosecutors say ran a "pay-to-stay" scheme in which hundreds of foreign nationals paid to use their schools as cover for U.S. student visas were arrested on Wednesday on a federal grand jury indictment.
According to the indictment the defendants, who operated four Southern California schools, are accused of taking in as much as $6 million in phony "tuition" payments from the foreign nationals and creating false student records and transcripts to fool immigration authorities.
Unannounced visits by federal agents to a language school owned and managed by defendant Hee Sun Shim, 51, found only three students there, prosecutors said. Only one student was found at his religion school.
"Immigration fraud schemes potentially compromise national security and cheat foreign nationals who play by the rules,” Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said in a written statement released by her office.
"In this case, officials at several schools allegedly abused their responsibility to ensure that only legitimate foreign students were allowed to the stay in the country," Yonekura said. "This type of fraud against the United States will be thoroughly examined to bring those responsible to justice and to protect the integrity of our immigration system."
Prosecutors say Shim and his co-defendants, Hyung Chan Moon, 39, and Eun Young Choi, 35, issued immigration documents, known as a Form 1-20, certifying that a foreign national had been accepted to one of the four schools and would be a full-time student, when in fact those individuals had no intention of attending classes and lived outside of California.
Shim is also accused of transferring "students" from one school to another to avoid arousing the suspicion of immigration authorities. Agents identified dozens of foreign nationals, mostly from South Korea and China, who obtained such transfers, according to prosecutors.
All three men were charged in the 21-count U.S. District Court indictment with conspiring to commit immigration fraud and use or possession of an immigration document procured by fraud.
Shim is also charged with three counts of encouraging illegal residence and two counts of money laundering.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Walsh)