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SAN FRANCISCO – Susan Xiao-Ping Su was sentenced on Friday to 198 months in prison, ordered to forfeit $5.6 million, and to pay $904,198.84 in restitution arising from a visa fraud scheme that she carried out in her role as the Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Pleasanton-based Tri-Valley University, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Tatum King, Acting Special Agent in Charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Francisco.
Su, 44, of Pleasanton, was convicted on March 23, 2014, after a 3-week trial of 31 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer, and money laundering.
“Every year our country welcomes academically qualified students from all over the world to learn from our country’s best and brightest,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. “The defendant’s scheme took advantage of this highly valuable immigration process, reducing opportunities for legitimate, worthy student applicants. The conviction and sentence in this case demonstrate our resolve to work closely with HSI to ferret out and bring to justice those who choose to engage in immigration fraud.”
“This sentence should leave no doubt that there are serious consequences for those who exploit our legal immigration system for personal gain,” said Tatum King, acting special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. “Student visas are intended to give people from around the world a chance to come to this country to enrich themselves with the vast learning opportunities available here, but in this case the defendant was interested in a different kind of enrichment, her own. Our message is simple – America’s legal immigration system is not for sale and HSI will move aggressively against those who compromise the integrity of that system and put our country’s security at risk simply to turn a profit.”
During the trial, evidence showed that Su engaged in a two-year scheme to defraud the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by submitting fraudulent documents in support of Tri-Valley University’s petition for approval to admit foreign students and, after having obtained such approval, fraudulently issued visa-related documents to student aliens in exchange for “tuition and fees.” In her petition for approval, Su made material false representations to DHS regarding Tri-Valley University’s admission requirements, graduation requirements, administrators, instructors, class transferability, and intent to comply with federal regulations.
Three purported Tri-Valley University professors testified that they never authorized Su to use their credentials in connection with the university. Multiple Tri-Valley University employees testified that the university had no requirements for admission or graduation, and that Su routinely instructed her staff to fabricate fraudulent transcripts, and other university documents.
In carrying out the scheme, Su made additional false representations to DHS through Tri-Valley University’s use of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which the United States government uses, in part, to monitor the “F-1” student visa program. Through her false representations, Su was able to unlawfully obtain and issue F-1 visa-related documents without regard to the students’ academic qualifications or intent to pursue a course of study required to maintain a lawful immigration status. Su admitted and maintained student aliens in exchange for tuition and other payments. In furtherance of the F-1 visa scheme, Su was also convicted of harboring two Tri-Valley University student-employees to assist her in making the false representations to SEVIS. One of the harbored student employees testified that Su also requested him to paint her house and to move furniture.
Su made over $5.6 million through her operation of Tri-Valley University and engaged in seven money laundering transactions using proceeds to purchase commercial real estate, a Mercedes Benz car, and multiple residences, including a mansion on the Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton, each in her name.
The investigation began in May 2010 following a tip to HSI pertaining to irregularities at Tri-Valley University.
The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Jon S. Tigar, United States District Court Judge, following a jury trial on counts of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (mail fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a) (visa fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(3) (use of a false document); 8 U.S.C. § 1324 (alien harboring); 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (unauthorized access of government computer); and 18 U.S.C. § 1957(a) (money laundering).
Judge Tigar also sentenced the defendant to three-years of supervised release. Su has already begun serving her sentence after being remanded into custody after trial.
Wade Rhyne and Hartley West are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Noble Hughes, Janice Pagsanjan, and Rosario Calderon. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by DHS, Homeland Security Investigations and by the multiagency Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, which is overseen by HSI.