The founder and president of an online university based in Pleasanton has been sentenced to 16 years in federal prison for running a visa fraud scheme.
Federal prosecutors said Tri-Valley University, which was run by Susan Xiao-Ping Su, 44, of Pleasanton, was a bogus, unaccredited venture designed to rake in millions of dollars from foreigners who sought to obtain student visas so they could stay in the U.S.
After a three-week trial before U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar, Su was convicted on March 23 of 31 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, use of a false document, false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer and money laundering.
In addition to sentencing Su to the lengthy prison term, Tigar ordered her to forfeit $5.6 million and pay $904,000 in restitution.
Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office said evidence at Su's trial showed she engaged in a two-year-scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by submitting fraudulent documents in support of the university's petition for approval to admit foreign students.
Prosecutors said that after Su obtained that approval she fraudulently issued visa-related documents to student aliens in exchange for "tuition and fees."
Prosecutors said that in Su's petition for approval, she made material false representations to the Department of Homeland Security about Tri-Valley University's admission requirements, graduation requirements, administrators, instructors, class transferability, and intent to comply with federal regulations.
During the trial, prosecutors said, three purported Tri-Valley University professors testified that they never authorized Su to use their credentials in connection with the university and multiple employees testified that the school had no requirements for admission or graduation and she routinely instructed her staff to fabricate transcripts.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Su admitted and maintained student aliens in exchange for tuition and other payments.
Prosecutors said one of Su's convictions was for harboring two Tri-Valley University student-employees to help her in making the false representations to the Student and Exchange Visitors System, which the U.S. government uses to monitor student visas.
One of the harbored student employees testified that Su asked him to paint her house and to move furniture, prosecutors said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Su made nearly $6 million through her operation of Tri-Valley University and engaged in seven money laundering transactions using proceeds to purchase commercial real estate, a Mercedes Benz and multiple residences, including a mansion on the Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton, each in her name.
Prosecutors said authorities began investigating Su in May 2010 after they received a tip.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement, "Every year our country welcomes academically qualified students from all over the world to learn from our country's best and brightest. The defendant's scheme took advantage of this highly valuable immigration process, reducing opportunities for legitimate, worthy student applicants."
Tatum King, acting special agent in charge for the Department of Homeland Security in San Francisco, said, "This sentence should leave no doubt that there are serious consequences for those who exploit our legal immigration system for personal gain."
King said, "Student visas are intended to give people from around the world a chance to come to this country to enrich themselves with vast learning opportunities available here, but the defendant (Su) was interested in a different kind of enrichment - her own."