VIRGINIA WOMAN PLEADS GUILTY TO MAIL AND WIRE FRAUD
Memphis, Tenn- Mary Ann Smith, 42, pled guilty to two counts of a multi-count indictment charging mail fraud and wire
fraud arising from a student visa brokerage scam, announced Edward L. Stanton, III, United States Attorney for the
Western District of Tennessee.
Ms. Smith was charged with operating a business out of Virginia that purported to be able to assist individuals to obtain student visas for a fee (or, in reality, for an ongoing series of fees). In February 2009, Ms. Smith came into contact with two residents of the Memphis area and sent email to them describing a nonexistent student visa program in which the United States government supposedly exchanged students with foreign countries on a one-for-one basis. Ms. Smith falsely told her Memphis victims that their relatives could obtain student visas and that, five years after the victims' relatives obtained student visas, the visa holders could become legal permanent residents. Ms. Smith told them that she could provide these services at a price of $6,480 per applicant and that the processing time was six to eight months. Ms. Smith persuaded the victims to sign contracts to "sponsor" four of their relatives and, in February 2009, the victims mailed four checks in a total amount of $25,920 to Ms. Smith at her business in Virginia, International Business Network, Inc.
Over the next three months, Ms. Smith made various claims to the victims that their relatives' documents were being processed and that Ms. Smith had obtained "school confirmation" for the victims' family members.
In April 2009, Ms. Smith told the victims (falsely) that "immigration" needed to see that airline tickets had been purchased for the student visa applicants and (also falsely) that the tickets needed to be purchased from a company "authorized by immigration." Ms. Smith told the victims to send her $2,180 per ticket, and the victims sent her more than $13,000 for airline tickets. The victims never received any airline tickets. In addition, though Ms. Smith told the victims she had obtained "school confirmation" for their family members, at least two of the schools the relatives were supposedly going to attend never received any application from or for any of the victims' relatives.
In May 2009, Ms. Smith sent the victims an email stating that once the student visa applicants paid for certain insurance, Ms. Smith could contact immigration and inform immigration that the victims' documents were ready. Although United States Citizen and Immigration Services does not in fact place any insurance requirement on individuals seeking student visas, Ms. Smith sought more than $11,000 from the victims for medical and health travel insurance.
By this time, the victims had become suspicious that Ms. Smith was unable to provide the services they had paid her for, and they made complaints to the Tennessee and Virginia offices of Consumer Affairs and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Shortly thereafter, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement learned of the scam and opened an investigation that resulted in the criminal charges against Ms. Smith.
At her guilty plea hearing, Ms. Smith admitted using a “spoofing” service that allowed her to make phone calls to the Memphis victims and both alter her voice and make it appear that the phone calls originated from United States Citizen and Immigration Services. Ms. Smith used the service to make her victims believe that their documents were being processed by United States Citizen and Immigration Services when, in fact, they were not.
Although Ms. Smith pled guilty to only two counts, all of the charged conduct will be taken into account as relevant conduct at Ms. Smith's sentencing, currently scheduled for September 21, 2011. In addition, Ms. Smith agreed to disclose the existence of and forfeit any assets derived from her crime.
This case was a result of an investigation by Special Agent Donald J. Letterle of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations and Jerry Coleman of the Department of Homeland Security-Office of the Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney John Fabian is handling the case for the government.