Fifteen people were charged with conspiracy, counterfeiting foreign passports, mail fraud and wire fraud in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
All charged are Chinese nationals.
There were people who, for money, were taking tests for other people. Some of the test-takers resided in Pittsburgh. Because of their status as Chinese citizens, they had to pass an English language proficiency exam and have a passport. The passports were fake, said David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
“The test taker would present himself or herself falsely as someone else to secure a good test score, which would then be used to defraud the institutions of higher learning by gaining admission under the name of someone who didn’t actually take the test,” Hickton said.
Once accepted to a college, they were eligible for a F-1 visa. Those charged were both the test takers and beneficiaries.
Hickton cited both the regional and national assets of the American education system.
“We are trying to preserve the integrity of the admissions process in those colleges as well as the integrity of the student visa process,” he said.
Hickton wouldn’t name the colleges affected because he said they, like the Educational Testing Services, were victims. He did say that "these are colleges everybody would recognize, these are colleges here and across the nation. These are some of our best and most respected educational institutions.”
Those charged face significant penalties, which totaled could be a sentence of up to 35 years in prison and fines of $750,000.
Hickton could not share how they learned about this because this investigation is ongoing, and authorities believe this is occurring elsewhere.