bigstock-Close-up-of-male-hands-with-pe-46137757February 22, 2011

The saga of Tri Valley University and founder Susan Su is an eye-opener to one way the immigration and educational systems can be exploited and how students can be caught in the middle. We hope folks here in Columbus take a close look at the case.

In January the United States government seized property owned by Susan Su, director of Tri Valley University (TVU), due to allegations related to fraud and other illegal activity. In forfeiture proceedings where typically the properties are the named defendants, the U.S.government asserts that the properties were acquired with illegal funds. The government asked the court to turn over the property due to misuse of visas and permits, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Court documents outline the alleged offenses which occurred during an elaborate defrauding scheme between 2008 and 2010.

In April of 2008, Susan Su created TVU, an entity that supposedly offered online college classes. The government’s complaint explains that while the private learning institution was seeking accreditation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), students were already being recruited and tuition was being paid. In reality the existence of the university was purely for fraudulent purposes.

The focus of TVU was to gain foreign immigrant students by securing F-1 visas. TVU was developed as an illegal institution that allowed foreign nationals to immigrate to the United States and be considered “students” as long as $2,700 “semester” fees were paid. DHS’s explanation for not identifying the scheme is that the current immigration system is inadequate for tracking the educational status of foreign nationals. The reason DHS offers for not catching the scheme exonerates the students, who appear to be the true victims of DHS’s failures and the school’s alleged fraud.

The complaint asserts the first offense committed by TVU and Su was a willing misuse of the visa program. Throughout the accreditation process TVU completed federal documents using inaccurate information in order to circumvent Homeland Security. To receive accreditation by the DHS, TVU had to submit a Form I-17 petition. Su and her staff misled the government by claiming they were operating a legitimate school.

The second offense that occurred was mail fraud. In addition to filling out federal documents, TVU had to supply DHS with three articulation statements from major universities asserting credits earned at TVU would be transferable to larger learning institutions. Mail fraud occurred when TVU sent the fraudulent documents and statements to DHS through the U.S. Postal Service.

TVU’s third offense was wire fraud. In 2009, TVU’s large profits and sudden growth caught the attention of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A lengthy and detailed behind-the-scenes investigation was conducted before the government took action against TVU. The wire fraud took place when TVU accepted tuition money illegally.

Between 2008 and the beginning of 2011 TVU made millions of dollars illegally bringing foreign nationals to the U.S. on F-1 visas. The court documents explain that 50% of the tuitions were paid with credit cards, 40% through PayPal, and 10% with checks or cash. In February of 2009, TVU had 30 students enrolled. By May of 2010 they had 939. It is noted that 95% of the students were from India and over half of the students had the same address listed as their residence.

During the ICE investigation, the government discovered that the majority of the “students” did not even live in California. They sent the “tuition” money to TVU in order to maintain their visa status, but no education or other forms of interaction took place.

The final offense (and the focus of the court case) was money laundering. This occurred when Su purchased five properties with illegal funds. The court documents state that money laundering occurs when an individual purchases a property with criminal funds. The U.S. Government is asking the courts to rule the properties be forfeited because they were purchased with illegal funds from a defrauding scheme.