OWNER/OPERATOR AND EMPLOYEE OF MIAMI-BASED SCHOOL CHARGED WITH IMMIGRATION-RELATED FRAUD
ICE Special Agents administratively arrest 81 student visa violators
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), Office of Investigations, announced a four-count indictment against the owner/operator and one employee of the Florida Language Institute (“Florida Language” or “the school”), a Miami-based foreign language school. Eighty-one visa holders purported to be attending the school were arrested administratively in South and Central Florida.
On February 26, 2010, defendants Lydia Menocal, 58, the school’s director and sole shareholder, and Ofelia Macia, 75, an employee of the school, both residents of Miami, were indicted on charges of conspiring to commit an offense against the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. In addition, Menocal was individually charged with making false statements on immigration documents (which allowed foreign nationals to obtain student visas), and making false statements to an executive branch agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1546(a) and 1001(a)(2), respectively. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $2.4 million in cash, which represents the proceeds of the criminal activity. If convicted, the defendants face up to 5 years’ imprisonment on the conspiracy charge, and Menocal faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment on the false statement charges.
On March 2, 2010, ICE special agents executed arrest warrants at the defendants’ home and a search warrant at Florida Language, located at 947 S.W. 87th Avenue, Miami, FL. The defendants made their initial appearances in court on March 2, 2010. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff set bond for both defendants. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro.
According to the indictment, defendants Menocal and Macia completed, signed and submitted to the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), on behalf of Florida Language, an application for approval to issue Forms I-20, the documents foreign nationals need to obtain student visas. By signing their names to the DHS application, the defendants attested that they had read and understood the pertinent federal regulations controlling approved schools. In addition, the defendants attested that they and the school would comply with these regulations, including the regulations that required students to attend a “full course of study,” defined as at least 18 hours of class per week.
According to the indictment, after receiving DHS approval, Menocal issued Forms I-20 to foreign nationals so that they could apply for and obtain student visas to attend school in the United States. On the Forms I-20, Menocal swore, under penalty of perjury, that Florida Language’s students would be required to attend at least 18 hours of class per week. According to the indictment, however, the defendants did not in fact require that the foreign nationals attend class. Moreover, the defendants failed to report to DHS, as required by the regulations, the vast majority of Florida Language’s foreign national students who were not attending classes regularly.
U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman stated, “As we found out too late on September 11, 2001, many of those responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were foreign nationals who abused the student visa program to enter and stay in the United States illegally. In the post-September 11 world, programs that enroll foreign national students must be legitimate and comply with federal law. Failure to do so puts our community and our nation at risk. For this reason, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ICE will continue to vigorously enforce federal laws designed to ensure the integrity of the student visa program and our immigration system as a whole.”
“This was an enforcement action targeting a Miami-based language school that was fraudulently facilitating the issuance of student visas, as well as allowing foreign nationals to maintain their student status and remain in the U.S. fraudulently,” said Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami. “One of the lessons learned from the September 11th attacks is that the U.S. government must be vigilant and aggressive in conducting investigations into organizations and persons who seek to exploit and corrupt America’s legal immigration system for personal gain and which can result in tragic consequences. ICE will continue to carry out its mission to closing such security vulnerabilities, while protecting national security and the freedoms and openness that are the hallmarks of our country.”
In addition to the indictment, ICE conducted a three-day operation, which concluded Thursday morning, and resulted in the administrative arrests of 80 student visa violators that purported to be attending Florida Language Institute from countries including Thailand, Syria, Honduras, South Korea, Japan, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Brazil. The majority of the students are from Thailand. Of those 81 arrested administratively, 39 were residing in Miami-Dade County, 27 in Broward County, nine in Palm Beach County, five in Bradenton and one resided in Altamonte Springs, FL. Eighty individuals arrested remain in ICE custody pending immigration removal proceedings and one was processed for removal and released on her own recognizance. In these cases, ICE agents and officers exercised discretion by releasing aliens on orders of supervision.
Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami with the assistance of ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal in Miami. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roy K. Altman and Robert J. Luck.
An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.