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California man sentenced to prison for utilizing a network of fraud to secure student visas for wealthy Chinese nationals

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

A California man was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison on Monday for implementing a complex network of fraud to secure student visas for wealthy Chinese nationals. The Justice Department reported that the scheme included imposter test takes, essay ghostwriters, and fake transcript purveyors.

United States District Judge Mark C. Scarsi found Yi "Brian" Chen guilty of one count of visa fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. However, the judge acquitted Chen of one count of conspiracy to commit immigration document fraud and 10 counts of visa fraud.

In addition to 48 months in prison, the 35-year-old man was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $400,000 and to forfeit $50,000 of ill-gotten gains.

Chen was the CEO and owner of two companies, Prime U.S. International and MS Education, which operated out of California from 2015 through 2021. The businesses were sham "educational consulting" companies that "guaranteed" foreign national students admission to a U.S. college that would provide an F-1 student visa.

In exchange for thousands of dollars, the businesses prepared fraudulent application packages that included altered transcripts and ghostwritten essays. According to the case, impersonators were hired to take standardized tests on behalf of the students, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language and the SAT.

Chen, who has been in custody since March 2021, was found guilty of submitting an application for at least one foreign student that contained fraudulent materials, which led to the student being admitted to New York University. The application included a fake Chinese school transcript and a TOEFL score taken by an imposter test-taker.

Chen's co-defendant, Yixin Li, pleaded guilty and testified against the business owner.

Prosecutors argued, "Under the guise of operating an 'educational consulting' company, [Chen] made millions of dollars by faking every aspect of the college admissions process." They accused Chen of sitting "at the very top of a wide network of fraudsters."

Between 2016 and 2020, Chen controlled seven bank accounts that received over $15 million in deposits.

Chen and co-defendant Yixin Li were linked to a previous case involving six defendants who pleaded guilty to using bogus Chinese passports to take exams on behalf of students seeking college admissions and student visas. All defendants in the case were sentenced to probation.

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