Immigration Officials: Tri-Valley U. and Students Involved in Visa Scam

Tri-Valley University and students under investigation for vast visa scam.

ByABC News
February 22, 2011, 5:27 PM

Feb. 25, 2011 — -- A little known college in California is being investigated by federal officials who suspect that it made millions of dollars by luring hundreds of foreign students to enroll by promising to take care of their visa problems.

Investigators also believe that many of Tri-Valley University's students shared in the possible fraud by collecting a share of the tuition of other students they recruited to the school.

"Once enrolled at TVU, each foreign national may also collect up to 5 percent of the tuition of any new student that his or her referred student refers. A large percentage of foreign nationals at TVU participate in this referral/profit-sharing statement," court documents allege.

Tri-Valley University, housed in a single building in Pleasanton, Calif., was shut down on Jan. 19 and labeled a "sham university" by immigration officials.

When the school was shut down, more than 1,000 foreign students were stripped of their student status that allows them to stay in America to study. Since January, at least 18 students were required by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to wear ankle bracelets so their locations could be tracked.

"This is an ongoing investigation involving possible visa fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering," Gillian Brigham, public affairs officer for ICE told ABC News.

Officials claim that the university and it's chief operations officer, Susan Su, have been "paid millions of dollars by foreign nationals to illegally obtain student visas," according to a civil forfeiture complaint filed in California.

The students, who are primarily from India, and their attorneys denied those allegations to ABC News, claiming that they were victims of fraud.

"We are even afraid to get a traffic citation. Why would we go and commit fraud...most of the students that joined the university are well-to-do families back in India. They have a very good education and have come here to realize their dreams. It's a totally unfortunate situation," the husband of one student said.

Criminal charges have yet to be filed against the university or the students. Su, through her attorney, refused to comment on the accusations against her.

Tri-Valley University was incorporated in 2008 and claims to be a "Christian higher education institution," according to its web site.

In February 2009, the Department of Homeland Security approved the school to accept foreign students. The school was allowed to accept 30 international students, but by May 2010, when ICE began its investigation, Tri-Valley had 939 international students, according to court documents. By the fall semester of 2010, there were 1,555 students and Tri-Valley made over $4 million, according to court documents.

Students mostly attended classes online from places as far away as New York.