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San Gabriel Valley men charged with rigging admission to U.S. colleges for foreign students

 the University Village area of the University of Southern California
The University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Federal prosecutors say two San Gabriel Valley men helped foreign students secure visas and admission to U.S. universities by falsifying their transcripts and paying people to write their application essays and take their standardized exams.

Yi Chen, 33, and Yixin Li, 28, were charged with conspiracy, visa fraud and aggravated identity theft in an indictment made public Monday. The document describes how the two men ran what federal authorities contend is an illegal scheme out of a pair of educational consulting companies in Alhambra and Arcadia.

Chen, of Monrovia, and Li, of San Gabriel, signed contracts with foreign students that guaranteed they would be admitted to a U.S. university of their choice, the indictment says. A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office said the men charged fees in the thousands of dollars. Their clients paid a portion of the amount upfront with the understanding it would be returned if they weren’t accepted to one of their preferred schools, the indictment says.

Prosecutors say Chen and Li submitted applications on their clients’ behalf to some of the country’s premier universities, such as Columbia, USC, New York University and UC Berkeley, but also to smaller Southern California colleges such as Bethesda University in Anaheim and the Horizon Institute in Los Angeles. Once admitted to a U.S. university, their clients became eligible for an F-1 student visa, the indictment says.

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The applications that Chen and Li submitted were replete with doctored transcripts, ghostwritten essays and tests taken by third parties, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors charged that the men paid conspirators to take the SAT and Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, in place of their clients. Authorities said Chen and Li were linked to six people who admitted in 2019 to using forged Chinese passports to take TOEFL exams on behalf of Chinese nationals. The six defendants pleaded guilty to using false passports and were sentenced to probation.

Chen and Li are also accused of falsifying their clients’ transcripts from Chinese high schools and colleges, and of hiring people to write their application essays and letters of recommendation.

Federal prosecutors accused top CEOs, two Hollywood actresses and others of taking part in an audacious scheme to get their children into elite universities through fraud, bribes and lies.

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Li’s attorney, Victor Sherman, said his client runs a legitimate business and intends to plead not guilty.

The government, Sherman said, is “making this sound like it’s the crime of the century.”

Li, who has been living legally in the United States for the last nine years, surrendered to the authorities last week when he learned of the warrant for his arrest, his lawyer said. He remained in custody Monday as prosecutors appealed a judge’s decision to set his bond at $200,000. Sherman said they had argued to the judge that Li would flee the country if released.

“They’re literally arguing that the entire security of the United States is at stake,” he said.

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Complicating matters, Sherman added, is that the government has placed a lis pendens on Li’s San Gabriel residence as it seeks its forfeiture, meaning he cannot use the home’s equity — some $300,000 — in posting bail. The government hasn’t offered any evidence that the property was purchased with funds derived from the alleged conspiracy, Sherman said.

Chen, whose attorney didn’t immediately return a request for comment, was ordered detained pending trial, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office said. He has pleaded not guilty.


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