Homeland Security agents created a bogus college in Michigan to entice foreign nationals who wished to use student status to expand U.S. visa privileges, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday.
The University of Farmington did not have any professors or hold any courses — but that didn’t matter to “students” who utilized the sham college to stay in the U.S. illegally, the government states.
Officials say the university brought recruiters who had been paid thousands of dollars for linking students to the counterfeit school, which had a real office space from Farmington Hills, Mich..
Nine alleged recruiters are currently under arrest, and dozens, if not hundreds, of people who enrolled could face fees and/or deportation as part of an undercover operation that started in 2015.
Posing as the university’s owners and staff, representatives from Homeland Security Investigations functioned against the recruiters to gather false student records, including transcripts, to mislead immigration authorities, according to the indictment. HSI operates within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A grand jury indicted the alleged recruiters on Jan. 15, but these records remained sealed until Wednesday. From early 2017 to January 2019, the men “helped at least 600 other foreign citizens to illegally remain, re-enter and work in the United States, also recruited them to register” in Farmington at a “pay to stay” scheme, the indictment states.
Lots of the alleged recruiters visited the university’s workplace to collect payments due to their attempts, according to the indictment, which says they were paid amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 on each excursion.
“Due to their recruitment achievement, this alliance jointly profited in excess of quarter of a million bucks,” the indictment states. Organizers say that the overseas nationals entered the U.S. via an F-1 student visa and afterwards used the counterfeit school to “fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to receive work authorization” under a program called CPT, or Curricular Practical Training.
Immigration lawyer Rahul Reddy, that works from Houston, says on his site that his office received reports that ICE on Wednesday raided businesses where Farmington’s students are believed to have been working under the extended student visas.
Some of the raids happened in St. Louis, Houston and Tampa, Fla.,” Reddy said. ICE has not supported to NPR the reports of raids. The University of Farmington promoted itself on its site as being supported by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and said it had been” approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll international students.
“However, U.S. officials stated in the indictment any pupils who were correlated with the faculty knew they were taking part in a scam and the Farmington arrangement shouldn’t be publicly discussed,
“It is creative and it is not entrapment,” Henning tells The Detroit News. “The government can put out the bait, but it’s up to the defendants to fall for it” The school’s site was enrolled in 2016 by the fake university and named a Dr. Ned Roberts as its administrative contact. Its division sat along a leafy parkway in Farmington Hills — a hint from the parking lot said the University of Farmington was on the second floor, next to a realty firm’s office.
On its own contact page, the ersatz university advised potential applicants,”We would love to hear from you. “The Michigan operation has echoes of a similar sting that resulted in dozens of arrests in 2016. If that’s the case, HSI agents created the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ) from whole cloth — and used it to indict 21 “agents, recruiters, and employers” from across the U.S., the Justice Department said.
That sting operation began in 2013. The counterfeit Farmington faculty isn’t to be confused with the University of Maine at Farmington, which bills itself as the first public college in Maine.