LOS ANGELES – A San Gabriel Valley man was sentenced today to 48 months in federal prison for scheming to help wealthy Chinese nationals unlawfully gain admission into the United States by falsely making them eligible for student visas through a network of fraud, including imposter test takers, essay ghostwriters and fake transcript sellers.
Yi Chen, a.k.a. “Brian Chen,” 35, of Monrovia, was sentenced by United States District Judge Mark C. Scarsi, who also ordered him to pay a criminal fine of $400,000 and to forfeit $50,000 of his ill-gotten gains.
After a six-day bench trial that concluded on March 21, Judge Scarsi found Chen guilty of one count of visa fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Chen was acquitted of one count of conspiracy to commit immigration document fraud and 10 counts of visa fraud.
From June 2015 to February 2021, Chen was the CEO and owner of two “educational consulting” companies in Alhambra and Arcadia – Prime U.S. International and MS Education. These companies charged foreign students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed” admission to a college that would lead to the issuance of an F-1 student visa.
To secure admission to a school, the companies prepared application packages that used bogus or altered transcripts, and they hired people to impersonate the prospective student to take standardized tests, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Chen submitted applications containing these fraudulent supporting materials on behalf of at least one foreign national, which helped the student obtain admission to New York University.
Once a foreign student was admitted to a college, the school issued a “Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students,” which provided the basis for a student visa application or extension of permission to remain in the United States.
“Under the guise of operating an ‘educational consulting’ company, [Chen] made millions of dollars by faking every aspect of the college admissions process,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum.
Chen, who has been in federal custody since March 2021, received the lion’s share of the profits from the visa fraud scheme. He also controlled seven bank accounts that received more than $15 million in deposits between 2016 and 2020.
Chen and co-defendant Yixin Li, a.k.a. “Eason Li” and “Calvin Wong,” 29, of San Gabriel, are linked to a group of imposter test-takers who were the subject of an earlier indictment that outlined how they used fake Chinese passports to take TOEFL exams on behalf of foreigners seeking college admissions and student visas. All six defendants in that earlier case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation. Li was sentenced on February 22 to time served.
Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service investigated this matter. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security Section, provided substantial assistance. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL exam, provided assistance during the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Julia Hu of the Major Frauds Section and Maria Jhai of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section prosecuted this case.