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Feds Used Fake College|to Catch Visa Scammers

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) - A fake New Jersey university used as a front for undercover agents led to the arrest of nearly two dozen recruiters accused of using the bogus college to hand out visas to more than 1,000 foreign nationals, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Federal immigration officials arrested 21 brokers and college recruiters in New Jersey and elsewhere along the East Coast who allegedly enrolled more than 1,000 foreign nationals - most of whom were from China or India - in the fake University of Northern New Jersey in exchange for commissions.

The defendants knew they were being asked to break the law in recruiting foreign nationals as students into the college, according to communications cited in criminal lawsuits. What they didn't know was that the college was fictitious.

The University of Northern New Jersey was created in 2012 by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations officers to lure in visa fraudsters. It had no teachers, no curriculum and had only one storefront location with small offices staffed with federal agents.

A cached version of the school's now-defunct website claimed it was dedicated to "the discovery, development, and application of knowledge" with an "atmosphere of ingenuity, creativity, and innovation." The fake school claimed accreditation, and had a fake Facebook account, on which it posted photos of supposed students, and a basic LinkedIn profile.

According to criminal lawsuits in the case, the so-called pay-to-stay scheme involved brokers and recruiters who attempted to use the phony university to gain F-1 student visas for foreign nationals. F-1 visas allow foreigners to stay in the United States while completing a course of study in an accredited institution.

In exchange for kickbacks, the brokers then allegedly falsified student records, including transcripts and diplomas, for their clients. The kickbacks were called "tuition fees" in some cases.

The scam didn't stop at student visas, according to prosecutors. In hundreds of cases, fraudsters also allegedly used the fake university to obtain work visas for bogus information technology projects at the school.

The brokers paid undercover agents working as administrators at the school thousands of dollars in bribes to draft up fake work contracts and other documents, which were then used to petition for H1-B visas, prosecutors say.

New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman called the alleged scheme "a very real threat to national security" and said the fake university helped immigration officials understand the extent of such pay-to-stay networks.

Many of the brokers are accused of creating the necessary fake documents themselves. One complaint claimed a broker had sample draft letters that needed only university letterhead and a signature to obtain a fake work visa.

In other cases, the brokers showed concern about other pay-to-stay schools in California, such as Herguan University, that had been raided by federal officials.

"I'm seriously wondering that [the University of Northern New Jersey] will also fall in this limelight someday by some smart-ass trying to prove we are also in the same trend like Herguan," defendant Avinash Shankar wrote to an undercover agent, according to the complaint against him.

The charges against the 21 defendants include conspiracy to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit, and making false statements. Most of the defendants each face at least 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

The 1,076 students who enrolled in the fictitious university through the recruiters will now have their visas revoked, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

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