As radio-tagging of scores of Indian students duped by a 'sham' United States university continues to cause anger back home, the controversial institute has claimed that one of its Indian-origin staff was responsible for the immigration fraud and it was not directly involved in it.
Breaking its silence, the California-based Tri Valley University, which was shut down in January, termed as 'baseless' the allegations of immigration fraud against the institute and claimed that it had not duped any student.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement brought "this baseless allegation and put a red-tape in the school operation for a federal investigation, causing hundreds of students to withdraw from classes (and) many instructors to quit teaching for the current term".
"Also, it caused a profitable university operation to quickly sink into negative in financial debt," said Susan Su, president and founder of the TVU.
"Starting in April, one of the student assistants Anji Reddy, who worked in TVU administrative office, teamed up with another student Ram Krista Karra, who also has a consultant company, conducting a large cheating scheme by asking students to make tuition payments into Ram Krista Karra's personal account in exchange for student I-20 and CPT approval. TVU has fired these two individuals," the e-mail said.
The complaint against TVU before the ICE was made by these two, Su claimed. Hundreds of Indian students were facing deportation and their academic career was in limbo due to the closer of the university by the ICE.
Many of them were also forced to wear radio collars around their ankles so that US authorities could keep a track of their movements. India has taken up the matter with the State Department and other concerned US officials, asking them to ensure that none of the Indian students are victimised.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna termed the radio-tagging of the students as an 'inhuman act' and demanded severe action against those responsible.
State Department spokesman P J Crowley has, however, said ankle monitors are used across the US as part of a standard procedure for a variety of investigations and that this does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity.
The US has taken very seriously the alleged immigration scam of Tri Valley University in California, which has mainly affected Indian students, he told reporters on Monday. "We take these allegations of immigration and visa fraud very seriously. These allegations are an excellent example of the universally damaging effects of visa fraud," he said.
Crowley said the ICE has established a helpline for the Indian students affected by the closure of the university.
"Those who are involved in this investigation have been issued ankle monitors. This is widespread across the United States and it is standard procedure for a variety of investigations. It does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity," he said.
"But we are following this case closely. We are in regular communication with officials of the government of India. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and ICE are leading this investigation, and that's about all I can say at this point," he said in response to a question.
According to a federal complaint, the university helped foreign nationals illegally acquire immigration status.
In the e-mail and an attached document running into eight pages, Su claimed the TVU had not charged money from students for visa-related documents. And only 140 students out of nearly 5,500 students had TVU I-20.
"Please see the attachment to help TVU defend, and spread the truth, to put an end of this 'sham' investigation" SHE said.
The statement that the department of homeland security approved TVU's I-17 applications, which contained false statements and misrepresentations is wrong, she said.
There was no immediate response from ICE on the claims made by Su. Su claimed that TVU is a Student and Exchange Visitor Programme-verified and approved legitimate school that can admit international students. TVU charged the same fee with qualified international students as it did with US students to register in its classes and study its material, she said.
Accusing the ICE of levying false charges against her university, Su said it was a 'sham' claim. Reddy cheated the students and charged money for I-20 and CPT approvals, she said.
The federal authorities should apologise for such a 'serious' mistake, "repay for the damage done to the university and the founder Dr Susan Su's name and reputation," the e-mail said.
Every day in the past two weeks, the university has been receiving a refund claim of $300,000 per day. Responding to allegations that hundreds of students had the same residential address in an apartment in California, Su claimed that this was done without her knowledge by ABS Consultant firm; which was responsible for all the international students of the university.
According to the email, TVU signed a contract with ABS that they will receive 20 per cent of each international student's tuition fee as the referral fee, and their responsibility would include recruiting, referring students, VISA interview consultant, status change consultant, reinstatement consultant as well as airport pickup and accommodation.