A Southern California pastor has been accused by immigration authorities of helping foreigners fraudulently obtain student visas and handing out phony diplomas at a fake graduation ceremony on a campus where they never attended class.
Samuel Chai Cho Oh, 65, surrendered to authorities Tuesday and faces a charge of conspiracy to commit visa fraud for allegedly charging foreigners cash to help get them student visas on the premise they would attend the Christian university he owns in Fullerton.
But more than 100 students from countries including South Korea, Thailand and Japan never took classes at California Union University, which served as a shell for them to stay in the country legally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.
"He found a way to circumvent the system," said Joseph Macias, assistant special agent in charge for ICE's office of investigations in Orange County. "His greed and his financial gain won (out) over the visa program."
Adriaan F. van der Capellen, Oh's attorney, said the university did in fact exist and his client was not guilty.
"He's a good man and doesn't know anything about any of this," van der Capellen said.
Immigration authorities say Oh charged students between $600 and $10,000 over the last decade to file paperwork on their behalf to certify they had been accepted to the university and would be attending class in order to obtain valid student visas.
Authorities said Oh raked in between $40,000 and $50,000 a month from the alleged scheme and acknowledged that 75 percent of the 300 students enrolled at the university did not regularly attend class.
Macias said authorities seized two bank accounts belonging to Oh that combined held more than $400,000.
According to a court affidavit, several Korean citizens said they paid Oh for paperwork to support their student visas so they could stay in the country legally but suspected the university was a sham. Young Rim Shin told investigators her paperwork indicated she studied computer science but she never took classes on campus and Oh told her to study at home or online, the affidavit said.
Oh, a Korea-born pastor who founded the university in 1979, appeared in federal court in Santa Ana Wednesday afternoon. He was released on $30,000 bail and will be subject to electronic monitoring, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.
A preliminary hearing has been set for Jan. 13.
California Union University was originally founded as a Christian seminary but later broadened its course offerings to include education and Oriental medicine, according to the school's Web site.
In October, the school lost the right to petition for student visas as a result of the investigation, court papers said.
No one answered a call to the campus Wednesday.
No criminal charges have been filed against the students, authorities said. Macias said those who are not eligible to stay in the country legally will face deportation proceedings.