Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Fifteen Chinese nationals were indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on charges of conspiracy, counterfeiting foreign passports, mail fraud and wire fraud. The charges stem from a joint U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) investigation.
The 35-count indictment, returned on May 21, and unsealed Thursday, names the following 12 individuals as defendants: Han Tong, Xi Fu, Xiaojin Guo, Yudong Zhang, Yue Zou, Biyuan Li (aka “Jack Li”), Jia Song, Ning Wei, Gong Zhang, Songling Peng, Siyuan Zhao and Yunlin Sun. The identities of the three additional defendants remain under seal.
According to the indictment, between 2011 and 2015, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy and a scheme to defraud Educational Testing Services (ETS) and the College Board by having imposters take college and graduate school standardized entrance examinations, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
In carrying out the scheme, the conspirators had counterfeit Chinese passports made and sent to the United States, which were used by the imposters to defraud ETS administrators into believing that they were other people, namely the conspirators who would receive the benefit of the imposter’s test score for use at American colleges and universities. The majority of the fraudulent exams taken by the conspirators were taken in western Pennsylvania.
“These students were not only cheating their way into the university, they were also cheating their way through our nation’s immigration system,” said John Kelleghan, HSI Philadelphia special agent in charge. “HSI will continue to protect our nation’s borders and work with our federal law enforcement partners to seek out those committing transnational crimes and bring them to justice.”
“The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service is committed to working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of crime related to passport fraud, and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said David Schnorbus, special agent in charge for DSS’s New York Field Office. “If criminal enterprises are able to manipulate instruments of international travel for profitable gain, then national security is at risk.”
“The perpetrators of this conspiracy were using fraudulent passports for the purpose of impersonating test takers of Educational Testing Services’ standardized tests including the SAT, GRE and TOEFL, and thereby securing fraudulently obtained admissions to American institutions of higher education and circumventing the F1 Student Visa requirements,” stated U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton. “This case establishes that we will protect the integrity of our passport and visa process, as well as safeguard the national asset of our higher education system from fraudulent access.”
The law provides for a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both for each count of wire and mail fraud, 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both for each count of counterfeiting foreign passports, and five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both for conspiracy. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense(s) and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. Kitchen is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.