OWNER/OPERATOR AND EMPLOYEE OF MIAMI-BASED SCHOOL PLEADS GUILTY TO IMMIGRATION-RELATED FRAUD
Wifredo A. Ferrer, 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 today that Lydia Menocal, 58, of Miami, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to make false statements on immigration documents. As part of her plea, Menocal agreed to pay to the United States money she made from the conspiracy, totaling $600,000. Menocal’s co-defendant, Ofelia Macia, 75, of Miami, also pleaded guilty today to misprison of a felony.
Sentencing for both defendants has been scheduled for August 27, 2010 at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro. At sentencing, Menocal faces up to five years in prison, while Macia faces up to three years in prison.
According to the statement of facts filed with the court during the plea hearing, Menocal was the director and sole shareholder of Florida Language Institute, Inc., a language school in a strip mall located at 947 Southwest 87th Avenue, Miami, Florida. In 2002, Menocal and Macia, on Florida Language’s behalf, applied with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to have Florida Language authorized to issue Forms I-20 (certificates of eligibility for non-immigrant, F-1, student status for academic and language students) directly to foreign nationals wishing to enter or remain in the United States as full-time language students. The Forms I-20 were necessary for potential foreign national students to get their F-1 student visas. As part of the application, the defendants stated that they had read and understood all the pertinent federal regulations governing DHS-approved schools, including the regulations requiring students to attend class at least eighteen hours per week and requiring school officials to report students who were not attending regularly. Based on the defendants’ representations that they had read, understood and agreed to abide by these regulations, DHS approved Florida Language’s application to issue Forms I-20 to foreign nationals wishing to enter or remain in the United States as full-time language students.
According to the statement of facts, between July 2007 and March 2010, Menocal issued and signed hundreds of Forms I-20s for foreign nationals wishing to attend Florida Language Institute. On each form, Menocal swore under penalty of perjury that each student would be required to attend Florida Language for a full course of study, i.e., eighteen hours a week. In fact, none of the hundreds of foreign nationals that Menocal issued Forms I-20 to were required to attend Florida Language. Menocal did not report to DHS that these students were not attending class for the required eighteen hours a week.
According to the statement of facts, in November 2007, DHS officials conducted a site visit at Florida Language. The site visit was done while Florida Language was supposed to be conducting classes (230 students were registered for the semester). Indeed, some students had signed in as if they had attended. But when the DHS officials went to Florida Language, there was no one there, except for Menocal, Macia and some other employees of the school. The DHS officials came back for a second site visit later that day, and found only three students at the school, even though thirteen had signed in. Menocal lied to the DHS officials and said that 150 students attended class daily.
According to the statement of facts, in 2007, two students in particular were issued Forms I-20 by Menocal, and were signed up to take classes, but almost never attended: K.R. and L.F. Attendance records from 2007 show that neither student attended classes. When both students applied again to attend Florida Language in the Fall 2009, Menocal issued them Forms I-20 and swore on the forms that they would be required to attend class eighteen hours a week, knowing that they would not attend. For the second time, neither student attended the required classes. Indeed, Menocal allowed K.R. to take the midterm and the final examination for the Fall 2009 semester on the same day, in January 2010, after the semester had ended. Menocal did not report to DHS that K.R. and L.F.E. were not attending classes.
According to the statement of facts, from July 2007 to March 2010, Menocal made at least $600,000.00 by charging the foreign nationals for the Forms I-20, but not requiring that they attend class. This $600,000 represents the proceeds of her fraud.
As for Macia, court records show that as the school’s office manager she was at the school daily and managed many of the school’s operations, including the collection of payments. According to the statement of facts, she knew that the foreign national students signed up to attend Florida Language were required to go to class at least eighteen hours a week. Macia also knew that she had a duty to report to DHS students that were not meeting the attendance requirements. In addition, Macia knew that the foreign national students who had been issued Forms I-20 by Florida Language were not attending class eighteen hours a week. Macia did not report to DHS that these students were not attending class.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami for their work on the two-plus year investigation. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roy K. Altman and Robert J. Luck.
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.