Homeland Security agents set up a fake university in Michigan that was used to lure foreign nationals who wanted to become "students" so they could illegally extend their U.S. visas, NPR reported.
The University of Farmington, with a fake office in Farmington Hills, Michigan, offered no class schedules for students, but still they enrolled. On its fake website, the university noted that it was "approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Program."
How long did this go on?
An undercover operation that began in 2015 led to the arrest of eight "recruiters," and dozens — possibly hundreds — of people who enrolled could face criminal charges, deportation, or a combination of the two, according to NPR.
Homeland Security Investigations agents posed as the university's owners and staff and collected false student records, including transcripts, from recruiters who were hired to enroll students in the nonexistent school.
Eight suspects are facing felony charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States: Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Reddy Kandala, Phanideep Karnati, Prem Kumar Rampeesa, Santosh Reddy Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally, Naveen Prathipati and Aswanth Nune, the report stated. Six were arrested in Detroit, one in Florida and on in Virginia, the Detroit Free Press reported.
A grand jury indictment was handed down Jan. 15, but records remained sealed until Wednesday, according to NPR.
Between early 2017 to January 2019, recruiters "assisted at least 600 other foreign citizens to illegally remain, re-enter and work in the United States, and actively recruited them to enroll" in a "pay to stay" scheme, the indictment said.
The recruiters allegedly visited the university's office to collect payments for their work, earning amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 during each trip. In all, their recruiting efforts totaled more than a quarter of a million dollars, according to the indictment.
Agents said the foreign nationals came into the U.S. through an F-1 student visa and used the bogus school to fraudulently keep their student visa status and obtain work authorization through a program called curricular practical training. The government also said the students were fully aware they were taking part in a scam.
Was this entrapment?
Critics have asked whether federal agents "entrapped" the students. Former prosecutor Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, told the Free Press he does not believe that's the case.
"It's creative and it's not entrapment," Henning told the news outlet. "The government can put out the bait, but it's up to the defendants to fall for it."
Homeland Security Investigations is part of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security.