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Just wanted to run a good school, says Tri-Valley Univ owner as trial begins

March 12, 2014 18:59 IST

The jury trial of Susan Xiao Ping Su, the president and owner of the now shutdown Tri-ValleyUniversity in California, began on March 3. On January 19, 2011 federal agents had shut down the school for alleged visa fraud, and called it a ‘sham’ university. It put a huge question mark over the future of the school’s 1,500 students, mostly Indians.

The criminal trial is being heard by Judge Jon Tigar in the California northern district Court in San Francisco. Fifteen jury members will decide the fate of Su, who maintained she started the school in good faith.

In tears, Su held this correspondent’s hand and told India Abroad before the trial began that she “just wanted to run a good school… I never forced students to pay tuition fees to students when they were late (in paying up)… I am a woman… could be, I am trapped... Other schools were allowed to run, I was only targeted... Why? I am trying to stay strong, I am not broken, and I am positive of the outcome.”

Asked about allegations that Tri-Valley was a money-making racket, she said, “No, not at all. I deposited all the cash in the account for two years.”

Su, who started Tri-Valley in 2008 and registered thousands of foreign students, pleaded not guilty after being indicted by the federal grand jury on 33 criminal counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud, visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud, use of a false document, making false statements to a government agency, and alien harboring.

Erik Babcock, Su’s attorney, told India Abroad, “Yes, this is (a) challenging (case)... any case is challenging, though.” According to the indictment, Su admitted and maintained foreign students in exchange for tuition and other payments.

In furtherance of the F-1 (student) visa scheme, according to the indictment, Su allegedly harbored multiple Tri-ValleyUniversity student-employees to assist her in making the false representations to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. The indictment alleged that Su engaged in multiple money-laundering transactions totaling more than $3.2 million using proceeds she derived from the visa fraud scheme.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials started the investigation in May 2010, during which it found that 95 per cent of the students in active status were citizens of India.

The university claimed that students were living in Sunnyvale, California, but actually they were living across the US. At the court last week, a former Tri-Valley student said Su threatened her with deportation when the student found out the courses offered were not appropriate and demanded the money back.

During the hearing, Su’s attorney said the university did not refund the money of first-time registered students, but there were provisions for second-time registered students. The court brought in Carolyn Bayer-Broring, a forensic document examiner, to testify and to look into signature forgery. Su has been accused of using false documents.

“The two signatures I showed so far relate, so there are two common signatures used as forgery,” Broring told India Abroad. The court also brought in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program officer to testify on the admission procedure.

The school offered online academic programs in engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, law, and medicine, as well as an MBA degree course.

Image used for representational purpose only

Ritu Jha in California