OWNER/OPERATOR AND EMPLOYEE OF MIAMI-BASED SCHOOL SENTENCED FOR 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), Homeland Security Investigations, Miami Field Office, announced that defendant Lydia Menocal, 58, of Miami, was sentenced on Friday, August 27, 2010, to fifteen months’ imprisonment, to be followed by two years of supervised release. In addition, Menocal was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and forfeit approximately $600,000 in money and property to the United States. Menocal’s co-defendant, Ofelia Macia, 75, of Miami, also was sentenced on Friday, Augsut 27, 2010. Macia was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
According to the charges and statements made during the plea hearings, Menocal was the director and sole shareholder of Florida Language Institute, Inc. (FLI), a language school in a strip mall at 947 S.W. 87th Avenue, in Miami. 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 nationals 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.
In November 2007, ICE special agents assigned to ICE Homeland Investigations in Miami Compliance Enforcement Group initiated a criminal investigation, dubbed “Operation Class Dismissed,” focusing on Menocal and the FLI after they received information that the school was allegedly engaged in fraudulently sponsoring foreign students by issuing I-20s without requiring the students to attend at least 18 hours of classes per week, as required by federal regulations. On March 2, ICE special agents arrested Menocal and Macia on the criminal charges.
According to the factual proffer filed in connection with Menocal’s plea hearing, between July 2007 and March 2010, Menocal issued and signed hundreds of Forms I-20s for foreign nationals wishing to attend Florida Language. 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 to whom Menocal issued Forms I-20 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. 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.
According to the factual proffer filed in connection with Macia’s plea hearing, Macia, as the school’s office manager, managed many of the school’s operations, including the collection of payments. She knew that the foreign national students registered to attend Florida Language were required to go to class at least eighteen hours a week. Macia knew that, as a designated school official, she had a duty to report to DHS students that were not meeting the attendance requirements. Macia also knew that the foreign national students who had been issued Forms I-20 by Florida Language were not attending class eighteen hours a week. Despite knowing all this, Macia did not report to DHS that these students were not attending class.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Miami for their work on the two-plus year investigation. This case was 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.