NEWARK, N.J. — A woman accused of participating in a student visa pay-to-stay scam uncovered when authorities set up a fake university with no professors or classes was indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury.
Ting Xue, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in New York City, used her consulting business to recruit foreign nationals to enroll in the fake university so they could fraudulently obtain or keep student or work visas, authorities said. She faces one count of conspiracy and seven counts of visa fraud. She was among 21 people charged in April with helping more than 1,000 foreigners get the bogus documents over a 2 1/2-year period.
The fake University of Northern New Jersey was set up by undercover agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Cranford, a small town about 15 miles outside New York City.
Even though the university had no instructors, classes or degree programs, its authentic-looking website promised “a high quality American education to students from around the world.” The site contained links to academic programs; a message from the president, a Dr. Steven Brunetti, Ph.D.; and photos of young people sitting around a library table or consulting with a faculty member.
The U.S. attorney’s office said Xue and the others, as well as the foreigners, knew the university was bogus but didn’t know it was a sting operation. They paid the undercover agents running it thousands of dollars to produce paperwork that made it look as if the foreigners were enrolled, authorities said.
Most of the foreigners who benefited from the scam were from China and India and were already in the U.S. on student visas, federal prosecutors said in April.
Attorney Chunyu Jean Wang, representing Xue, called the charges “bogus” in an email Tuesday and said they would be “adamantly” fought.
“The government made UNNJ so real that these consultants really believed it was a real school,” Wang wrote.
Wang also called for the government to account for the money it took from the students and consultants, writing the law “requires the government to initiate forfeiture proceedings before they seize money and property from private citizens.”
“UNNJ’s website (before it was shut down) indicated that the government was charging an annual ‘tuition’ of $12,620.00 per year, meaning that the government has likely taken in millions of dollars in tuition from the 1,076 students who were allegedly enrolled,” Wang wrote.
The U.S. attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.