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Indian student arrested in US 'sham varsity' scam

January 25, 2011 01:21 IST

At least one Indian student has been arrested in a countrywide operation in which hundreds of Indians may be victims or participants in an elaborate fraud scheme involving a California university.

Federal officials have been looking for other students and have interrogated those that could be located.

Rajshekhara Dasari, 28, a student at the Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California, was held at the Butler County Jail in Ohio on behalf of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

This was around the time federal agents raided and shut down the university itself December 19.

The US attorney's office filed a complaint the same day alleging that Tri-Valley University is part of an effort to defraud, misuse visa permits, launder money and for other crimes.

The complaint calls Tri-Valley a 'sham university' that Susan Xiao-Ping Su, the university's chief executive officer, and her associates have used to help foreign nationals illegally acquire immigration status.

According to the report, during the investigations, ICE found that 95 percent of the students in active status were Indian. It found the university had claimed that more than half of them lived at 555 East El Camino Real, Apartment 55, in Sunnyvale, California.

The apartment manager reportedly told ICE agents that four students lived there from June 2007 to August 2009 and none thereafter.

Federal officials had reportedly gone seeking another student when they found Dasari there. He denied information about that student but the officials came back later and arrested him. Dasari is also a student of Tri-Valley University.

The university had 1,555 active F-1 students in the 2010 fall semester, during which it had an estimated revenue of $4.2 million. The authorities aim to make Su forfeit five properties, including the university building and several properties in Pleasanton and Livermore in the San Francisco bay area.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials started investigating the Tri-Valley University case in May 2010. They allegedly set up sting operations to expose the fact that Su was willing to keep students on active status even though they were not attending classes at the university.

According to the report, each student paid $2,700 to maintain status and got 20 percent back for every new student referred. The students also got five percent of the fees of every student their referred students referred.

Located in Pleasanton, the Tri-Valley University describes itself as a Christian Higher Education Institution aiming to offer academic programmes in the context of the Christian faith.

It offers academic programmes in engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, law, medicine as well as a Master's in Business Administration and certificate programmes. It also offers online courses and was licensed to operate in Pleasanton.

According to State of California Education Code with the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary and Vocation Education, California has a state religious exemption provision. The Tri-Valley University is also authorised by the federal government to admit international students and to issue I-20s for those on student visas (F-1).

However, the ICE states in its complaint that the university, which is not accredited itself, filed false papers stating that three accredited colleges have agreed to give credits for credits earned at Tri-Valley University.

The Department of Homeland Security took the information at face value and approved the university's application to enroll students and provide them with student visas. But federal officials say two of the three agreements from the accrediting colleges false.

Ritu Jha