DEGREES EARNED BY DECOYS
LEADING CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS INVOLVED
Muslim students from the Middle East paid a California man millions dollars to attend college for them, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials maintain.
Eamonn Daniel Higgins, 46, resident of the upscale city of Laguna Niguel, received stashes of cash to study sociology, marketing, English, business and mathematics at 10 colleges in southern California beginning in 2002, authorities allege. The colleges include Cal State Los Angeles, Irvine Valley College, and Santa Monica College.
In federal court yesterday, Mr. Higgins, a U.S. citizen, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. He faces five years in prison if convicted.
Mr. Higgins, according to the immigration officials, attended class, wrote papers and took exams for about 120 students from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar.
The demand for the services of Mr. Higgins became so high he allegedly hired staff, including a blond woman who posed as a Middle Eastern man, the agents allege.
Foreigners who want to study in the United States must attend school full-time to keep their visas valid.
“We have seen visa fraud schemes before, but we have never seen anything quite like this,” said Debra Parker, Los Angeles acting special agent in charge of investigations for the immigration agency. “This is something really sophisticated.”
Although immigration agents don’t believe that any of the students had links to terrorism, Parker said Monday the agency was still investigating. “It definitely highlights some of the vulnerability, the way these people were able to go and compromise the integrity of the immigration system,” Parker said.
In a related incident, Lydia Menocal and Ofelia Macia have been arrested by ICE officials for providing phony student visas to hundreds of Muslim students at a bogus school called the Florida Language Institute in Miami. The two women made $2.4 million from the scam.
According to the ICE indictment, only five percent of the 600 foreign national aliens were legitimate students. The rest never showed up for class and remained “enrolled” so they could enter and stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.