Federal authorities arrested five people linked to a scheme that allegedly helped Chinese nationals obtain student visas by hiring individuals who used fake Chinese passports to take English proficiency tests for the foreign students.

The arrests were made pursuant to a 26-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury. The indictment charges the defendants with conspiring to use false passports, using false passports, and aggravated identity theft as part of the scheme to impersonate Chinese nationals who were required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to obtain a student visa.

A sixth defendant in the case is believed to be currently residing in Taiwan.

When a foreign national goes to a TOEFL testing location, the test-taker must present an original, non-expired, government-issued identification document recognized by their home country. According to the indictment, all six defendants used counterfeit People’s Republic of China passports to impersonate 19 different Chinese nationals at various TOEFL testing locations in and around Los Angeles, California.

The indictment further alleges that one defendant paid for and registered 14 Chinese nationals for TOEFL exams over a one-year period in 2015 and 2016. Following the tests, the defendant allegedly paid three co-defendants approximately $400 per test.

The conspiracy count in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. The charge of using a false passport carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory consecutive two-year sentence.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection National Security Section. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL exam, provided assistance during the investigation.

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