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Ringleader of student-visa scam for rich Chinese sentenced to 4 years

Brian Chen ran companies that offered "guaranteed" admission to U.S. colleges that would grant wealthy students a visa.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The mastermind of a scheme that faked admission tests, transcripts and essays for wealthy Chinese students to get admitted to U.S. colleges and obtain student visas was sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Yi "Brian" Chen, 35, was also ordered to pay $400,000 in fines and $50,000 in restitution at his sentencing hearing Monday in Los Angeles.

U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi agreed with the government that Chen was the leader of the enterprise, but he rejected the government's request to base his sentence on conduct that either wasn't charged or for which Chen was acquitted at a bench trial.

Authorities arrested Chen and a co-defendant in 2021 and accused them of running two companies in Alhambra and Arcadia, California, that charged foreign students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed” admission to a college that would lead to the issuance of an F-1 student visa. Chen was convicted of visa fraud and identify theft this past March. His co-defendant pleaded guilty and testified at Chen's trial.

"Under the guise of operating an educational consulting company, defendant Chen made millions of dollars by faking every aspect of the college admission process," prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in LA said in their sentencing memorandum. "In doing so, Chen sat at the very top of a wide network of fraudsters, including imposter test-takers, essay ghostwriters, and fake transcript purveyors."

According to the government, Chen made $10 million from wealthy foreign students through two sham educational companies he ran. He secured his clients admission to U.S. colleges, which is a prerequisite to get a student visa, by paying for imposters take the required Test of English as a Foreign Language or the SAT. He also obtained doctored school or college transcripts for the applicants and hired ghostwriters to write admission essays for them.

He obtained at least 25 fraudulent student visas for his clients, and got them accepted to the likes of Columbia University, New York University, the University of Southern California and Boston University.

Chen also engaged a Hollywood screenplay writer to provide fake admission essays and letters of recommendation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Hu said at the hearing.

The government had asked for a 70-month sentence. Chen's attorney pleaded for just two years and one day.

"Mr. Chen's family describe him as an influential, caring and thoughtful person who has offered his friendship, opened his home to his friends during the Covid-19 pandemic and a helping hand whenever needed," his lawyer said in his bid for leniency. "When Mr. Chen learned that Covid-19 was affecting communities in China as well as in the U.S., he organized various drives and purchased supplies to distribute to people and hospitals."

In addition, his attorney Shaun Khojayan argued, as a foreign national Chen is ineligible for early release or a minimum-security prison, and he will be deported from the U.S. once his finishes his sentence. This, Khojayan said, should weigh toward a lighter sentence because there is no need to protect the public from him or to worry about recidivism.

Chen addressed the judge through an interpreter at the hearing and apologized for his conduct.

"I feel deeply sorry and I feel deeply regretful," Chen said.

He asked to judge to consider the burden his family is suffering because of his mistakes and also the fact that this is the first time he has gotten into trouble with the law.


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