School Director Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Bribery And Visa Fraud Charges
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced that CHRISTIE HWANG, the director of a vocational and career training school in Manhattan, guilty today in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to bribe employees of New York City Workforce1 Career Centers in order to secure federal funds for students, and to conspiring to engage in visa fraud for using her school to illegally obtain F-1 student visas.
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest presided over HWANG’s plea proceeding. Two employees of Workforce1 Career Centers in Manhattan and Queens, Romero Johnson and Lois Powell, have also pled guilty to bribery conspiracy charges as part of the scheme, and a similar scheme involving a driving school located in Manhattan. Johnson and Powell pled guilty before Judge Forrest on December 20, 2012, and January 18, 2013, respectively.
According to the Complaint, the Indictment to which HWANG pled guilty, other documents previously filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made during plea proceedings:
The New York City Workforce Investment Board (“NYC-WIB”) disburses federal funds to student-oriented programs within New York City. Its mission, in part, is to ensure that New York City businesses have access to qualified workers by helping candidates find job openings and giving them vocational training. New York City’s Department of Small Business Services, operating under the NYC-WIB umbrella, contracts with, and oversees, several privately owned “Workforce1 Career Centers” across the five boroughs. Among other things, the career centers match student applicants to appropriate schools for job training, and approve school attendance vouchers. Staff members at Workforce1 Career Centers receive and adjudicate numerous competing applications for vouchers from students seeking to develop job skills.
HWANG was a director and owner of one such school, Global Education New York (“GENY”), a facility in Manhattan that offered training in several vocational disciplines, as well as English as a Second Language, and other career-related training. Between 2008 and 2011, HWANG arranged for an intermediary to pay employees at Workforce1 Career Centers a set percentage of NYC-WIB voucher funds secured on applications the employees handled. In return, the Workforce1 Career Center employees gave GENY vouchers special treatment and sent the school business, thereby corrupting unbiased processes that were designed to award vouchers based exclusively on the merits. During that time period, GENY received NYC-WIB vouchers totaling $575,845. Vouchers secured by Johnson, Powell and a third Workforce1 Career Center employee for GENY during this period totaled at least $300,000. Johnson and Powell also engaged in similar conduct with respect to a driving school located in Manhattan.
Additionally, HWANG participated in a visa fraud scheme, in which GENY made misrepresentations in Form I-20 student visa applications it issued that resulted in students receiving, and entering the U.S. based on, F-1 student visas to which they were not entitled.
HWANG, 50, of Weehawken, New Jersey, pled guilty today to one count of bribery conspiracy and one count of visa fraud conspiracy. She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on each count, and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense on each count.
POWELL, 51, of the Bronx, New York, pled guilty to a Superseding Information charging her with two counts of conspiracy, representing the separate bribery schemes involving GENY and the driving school. She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on each count, and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense on each count. JOHNSON, 42, of the Bronx, New York, also pled guilty to a Superseding Information charging him with two counts of conspiracy, representing the separate schemes involving GENY and the driving school. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on each count, and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense on each count.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative efforts of ICE HSI.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Martin S. Bell is in charge of the prosecution.