LOS ANGELES (CN) – Federal prosecutors accuse the operator of two English-language schools of running a visa scam that charged hundreds of foreign students to live in the United States without attending classes. Some “students” were Russian and Latvian prostitutes, Los Angeles police said. Others allegedly lived in Seattle and New York while they supposedly attended school in Los Angeles.
Behzad Zaman ran the Concord English Language Center and the International College for English Studies, according to the indictment. The Department of Homeland Security authorized both schools to issue Certificates of Eligibility to allow foreign students to get visas through the F-1 Student Visa Program.
Before issuing a certificate, the schools were supposed to verify students’ identity, make sure they studied full time, and ensure they had the financial stability to avoid working illegally or living in poverty. Schools must revoke eligibility if students stop attending classes.
More than a dozen students said they paid thousands of dollars for fake enrollment at Concord or the International School, prosecutors said. Concord and International College had a combined enrollment of 1,044 students in February, though the two small schools have a capacity of 150 to 280 students, according to a government affidavit.
Zaman apparently registered 700 students for classes at the 3,000 square-foot International School. Some informants said they attended one of the schools briefly, buy most claimed that they never did.
Los Angeles Police officers said they found Russian and Latvian immigrant women working as prostitutes who had student visas to attend Zaman’s schools. The women had never attended classes at the schools, according to the LAPD.
Zaman allegedly laundered thousands of dollars into accounts held by his family members. Wire transfers from Latvia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were allegedly deposited into the accounts. He also allegedly bought property in his family members’ names.
Zaman accepted two Immigration and Customs Enforcement informants over the telephone, the affidavit states. With agents listening to each call, the informants told Zaman that their visas were about to run out, they wanted to stay in the U.S., and they did not want to attend any classes. Zaman agreed to issue Certificates of Eligibility to enroll at Concord or the International College, and charged between $1,600 and $3,600 for the certificates, the affidavit states.
Zaman allegedly told one informant to travel to Uzbekistan, then re-enter the US with the help Lola Aripova, a co-conspirator. He told the other “student,” who lived in New York, to make up a California address.
According to the Student Exchange Visitors Information System, informants who reported having stopped paying Zaman, but said they never attended classes, were listed as having completed their studies. Informants who said they attended one of Zaman’s schools exclusively are shown on SEVIS as having transferred back and forth between Concord and the International School.