Trial begins in case of Tri-Valley University in California where thousands of students from India got duped

March 21, 2014

Students got full marks without attending class, degrees could be bought.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Susan Xiao-Ping Su, the former of head of Tri-Valley University (TVU), the now-defunct sham college that brought in hundreds of students from foreign countries using false documentation and visas, is currently in the midst of her trial in California.

Su is accused of making more than $5.5 million from the scheme, in which she brought students, nearly 90% of which were India (specifically, from Andhra Pradesh), to the US to enroll in TVU. The Pleasanton, California-based school told students that it was accredited to grant master’s degrees and Ph.D. degrees in the fields of business, engineering, and ministry.

The school was founded in 2008, and began accepting students almost instantaneously. According to court documents, Su repeatedly lied about the size of the school; in 2011, she told government officials that the school only had 30 students and nine faculty member, when in fact it had well over 1,000 students and almost no instructors – many of the names Su gave as professors of TVU were names of instructors at other institutions.

Tuition costs ran around $2,700 per semester, for which the student would be able to attend classes and given an F-1 visa to stay in the country. Law enforcement eventually discovered that this was a hoax, and also alleged that there was a kickback scheme in which students who referred other students to TVU would get paid for doing so.

Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uncovered thousands of documents that Su allegedly doctored to keep the school afloat. This paperwork included visa applications, petitions for foreign exchange programs, transcripts, records of attendance, and documents indicating that at least two other universities – the University of Central Florida and San Francisco State University – were willing to accept transfer credits from TVU.

In April of 2011, Su was indicted by a federal grand jury on 35 counts of making false statements, harboring aliens, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit visa fraud. If she is found guilty of all charges, she faces a maximum prison sentence of 54 years behind bars, with an additional fine of $1.5 million.

The trial began on March 10, and so far numerous former students of TVU have come forward to testify for the prosecution. Several students, practically all of Indian origin, have testified that Su duped them into thinking they could earn a legitimate degree at TVU, with one female student saying Su told her she could not transfer to another school unless she spent one year at TVU. Several of these associates have also been arrested and charged with visa fraud, and are cooperating with the DHS investigation.

Other students have testified that all the classes they took were simply taught by other students, and not real professors. At least one student at the trial was said to have asked if he could buy his degree instead of taking classes to earn it, while another student said that she received absolutely perfect grades in every subject she enrolled in, despite never having attended class or taken an exam.

Checks have been presented at trial that show Su sending money to agents in India, who were contracted to find prospective students and send them to TVU. Additional paperwork has shown evidence of the aforementioned kickback scheme, with one student earning as much as $10,000 for his referrals. Indian-origin employees of TVU also testified that they were paid to create false immigration paperwork, such as the I-20 form, to bring in Indian students faster.

Su’s defense attorney, Eric Babcock, has argued that his client did not do anything intentionally harmful; according to the defense, Su wanted to start a college and simply tried to do everything herself, acting “in good faith” but ultimately unable to keep up with everything. The defense has argued that, in essence, Su’s only wrongdoing was simply failing at running an institution, which is not a crime in and of itself.

But the prosecution is saying that Su’s entire scheme comes down to greed, and nothing more. Allegedly, Su used the millions she made from the scheme to buy three houses, two commercial properties, one mansion located on a beautiful golf course, and a red Mercedes-Benz.

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