By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fifteen Chinese nationals living in the United States have been charged with developing a fraud scheme in which impostors took college entrance exams including the SAT, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
Conspirators used counterfeit Chinese passports to trick test administrators into thinking they were the person who would benefit from the test score, a federal grand jury charged.
Between 2011 and 2015, mainly in western Pennsylvania, the test takers recorded scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the Test of English as a Foreign (TOEFL) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which were used to gain entrance to graduate school under false names, according to the Justice Department statement.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David Hickton said the beneficiaries secured "fraudulently obtained admissions to American institutions of higher education."
Hickton said the students also cheated student visa requirements by using counterfeit Chinese passports.
"These students were not only cheating their way into the university, they were also cheating their way through our nation’s immigration system," said Special Agent in Charge John Kelleghan for Homeland Security Investigations of Philadelphia.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both for each count of wire and mail fraud. Conspiracy charges carry an additional five year maximum sentence.
(Reporting By Julia Edwards; Editing by Doina Chiacu)