NEWARK – On Tuesday, federal agents arrested eight of nine people charged for their alleged participation in a widespread foreign student visa fraud, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Special agents with ICE Homeland Security Investigations executed three search warrants, including two at school campuses located in Iselin and Jersey City. The defendants are charged by complaint with conspiracy to obtain and use phony visas and conspiracy to conceal illegal aliens.
“The Student and Exchange Visitor Program opens educational opportunities to deserving foreign students and enriches the educational environment at our schools,” Fishman said. “Their actions highlight the need for constant vigilance in protecting all avenues of entry into this country. The defendants tried corrupt this worthy program to enable illegal entry into the country and to reap personal profit.”
“America welcomes people from around the world to come to the United States to enrich themselves with remarkable educational opportunities through the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP),” said Andrew McLees, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Newark. “Those schools, however, that choose to misuse this program by permitting ineligible persons to remain in the country illegally, thereby corrupting America’s legal immigration system and potentially do us harm, will be brought to justice.”
According to the criminal complaint filed in this case:
Dhirenkumar Parikh, 34, of Old Bridge, was the president, owner, and registered agent of Vision Career Consultants USA Inc. (“VCC”), located in Iselin. VCC operates as an intermediary between students and various academic institutions within the United States, recruiting students for the institutions in exchange for a referral fee and assisting students with the application process. Parikh and his co-conspirators allegedly defrauded the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”) by providing foreign nationals, for a fee, the documents needed to obtain student visas, without verifying any of the foreign nationals’ information.
As described in the complaint, Parikh and others allegedly ran their criminal enterprise through VCC and American Health and Technology Institute (“AHTI”), formerly known as “PC Tech Learning Center LLC,” a school that was certified by SEVP to enroll foreign students. In addition to allegedly counterfeiting documents and falsely certifying that the foreign nationals had met AHTI’s school admission requirements, the defendants are accused of falsely certifying attendance records and actively assisting some students with hiding their prior violations of immigration law.
Count one of the complaint – conspiracy to obtain and receive student visas for entry into and as evidence of authorized stay in the United States, knowing that the student visas had been procured by means of false claims and statements and otherwise procured by fraud and unlawfully obtained – is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Count two – disregard of the fact that aliens had come to, entered, and remained in the United States in violation of law, conspiring to conceal, harbor, and shield from detection such aliens, for commercial advantage and private financial gain – punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Parikh, Vanrajsinh Chavda of Fords, Manamadurai Somalingham, 63, of Pelham, and Hemantkumar “Harry” Patel, 29, are charged with both counts. Patel was not in custody at the time of Fishman’s announcement of the other arrests.
Michelle Alphonso, 34, of Iselin; Maulik Gajjar, 33, of Iselin; Tiffany Thomas, 38, of Orange; and Yasmin Rivera, 29 were charged with count one.
Hemlata Christian, 40, was charged with count two.
Fishman credited special agents of ICE-HSI under the direction of Special Agent in Charge McLees in Newark, with the investigation leading to the arrests.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.