A government sting operation in mid-January caught Susan Su, founder of Tri-Valley University, allegedly selling student visas. Su was immediately arrested and authorities told The Times of India that she will be charged with money laundering and visa fraud.
Su had reportedly been selling the student visas for $100 to mainly Indian nationals since May 2009 — in addition to charging them $2,700 per semester. Su apparently used the tuition and fees collected from those students to purchase five properties in California.
Suspicions arose when half of the 1,500 students enrolled in the university claimed to be residing in an apartment complex in Sunnyvale, the court complaint reads. In reality, majority of the students were taking classes online in addition to working and residing elsewhere.
Although 95 percent of the students are Hindu, TVU’s website describes the unaccredited university’s mission as aiming to “make Christian scientists, engineers, business leaders and lawyers for the glory of God, with both solid academic professionalism and Christian faith, therefore to live out Christ-like characters.” TVU’s website is still up and running.
Foreign national students were reportedly promised that they could collect up to 20 percent of the tuition of any new student he or she referred, plus 5 percent of the tuition of any new student that the referred student referred. TVU’s revenue from international students may have reached $4.2 million in the fall of 2010 alone.
According to the court complaint filed January 19, a witness wearing an audio device visited Tri-Valley in June 2010, carrying written information about two other foreign students whom he said had been “terminated” in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System from another university in California. Although ICE requires students to be physically present when their visa paperwork is signed, the witness clearly saw Su sign the documents for the absent students.
A month later, the complaint alleges, the witness returned to the university to pay $2,000 to “activate” the status of the two students. Neither of the so-called students ever attended classes but remained on active status in the SEVIS database as late as November 2010.
“Officials put GPS tracking devices around the students’ feet to ensure they did not leave the country,” said Vidya Parwani of Parwani Law Firm in New York. Students were also given a notice to appear (NTA) in front of an immigration judge and have been trying to get in touch with lawyers for assistance.
When Indian officials caught wind of the story, Juliet Wur, public affairs officer at the consulate in Hyderabad attempted to justify the ankle bracelets by calling them “hip and happening”. She has since apologized for her comments.
The immigration statuses of students remain in flux. ICE officials told TPM, “The U.S. government has canceled the visas of those who held visas tied to the school. All of those visa holders will be treated fairly under the laws of the United States, with a full range of procedural protections.” In addition, the agency has “taken action” to force Tri-Valley to withdraw from Student Exchange and Visitors Information Program (SEVP), which would bar it from enrolling foreign students. Under the current rules, the school has 30 days to respond to the agency’s action.
Parwani told TPM, “Our law firm has received a number of phone calls from international students enrolled in Tri-Valley University. Those eligible to change status to dependent visa, e.g. H-4, F-2, etc. have already done so. We are waiting to see how USCIS decides to adjudicate these cases.”
Read the court filings below:
Tri Valley Forfeiture Complaint