New York, May 1: Three Indians have pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiring to commit student visa and financial aid fraud through a for-profit school they ran and agreed to forfeit over USD eight million to federal authorities.
Suresh Hiranandaney, 61, Lalit Chabria, 54, and Anita Chabira, 50, were arrested in May 2014, along with co-defendants Samir Hiranandaney and Seema Shah following a long-term investigation by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcements Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI).
Hiranandaney and the Chabira duo pled guilty yesterday in Manhattan federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit student visa fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit student financial aid fraud.
They also agreed to forfeit USD 7.4 million of proceeds of the student visa fraud conspiracy to the US government and another million dollars in restitution to the US Department of Education for losses from the student financial aid fraud conspiracy.
Each faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and will be sentenced in September this year. Hiranandaney, 28, and Shah, 42, face pending criminal conspiracy charges.
Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said the three turned their for-profit schools into "instruments of fraud to exploit our nations foreign student visa and domestic student financial aid programs for their own personal financial gain.
Education fraud remains a high-priority focus of ours and we will prosecute all those who make a self-serving sham out of education."
According to the indictment filed in this case, the three were associated with the Micropower Career Institute, a for-profit school with five campuses in New York and New Jersey, as well as with the Institute for Health Education (IHE), a for-profit school located in New Jersey.
Hiranandaney was MCI's President; his brother-in-law Lalit Chabria was its Vice President and and his sister Anita MCI's Vice President.
The three failed to report to immigration authorities that foreign citizens were not attending classes at their institutes, despite a federal law requirement that foreign citizens on student visas must pursue full courses of study at approved schools.
If a student fails to attend classes as required, the school is required to inform immigration authorities so that the authorities may terminate that student's visa.
The three fraudulently portrayed MCI and IHE to immigration authorities as legitimate institutes of higher learning where foreign students carried full course loads.
However, in reality, the majority of foreign students at MCI and IHE did not attend the required number of classes and the institutes continued to collect millions of dollars in tuition from the students with delinquent attendance.
When a campus of MCI came under regulatory scrutiny, the defendants and others transferred foreign students with delinquent attendance to affiliated schools (such as another MCI campus or IHE) that were not under scrutiny.
In another scheme, the three individuals falsified documents in student financial aid files at MCI in order to hide MCI's failure to timely return financial aid funds received by it for domestic students who had dropped out.
In violation of federal laws, MCI also failed to return to the Department of Education substantial sums of financial aid funds that the department had disbursed to MCI for domestic students who dropped out of MCI without an authorised leave of absence.
Specifically, the defendants and others falsified student files by altering documents in the files and in some cases created entirely fabricated documents to conceal MCI's failure to return funds to the department and ensure that its MCI's eligibility for future financial aid funds is not affected.