A Los Angeles man was sentenced Thursday to four months behind bars for his involvement in a multimillion-dollar “pay-to-stay” scheme that helped hundreds of foreign nationals remain in the United States by falsely claiming student status.
Hyung Chan “Steve” Moon, 42, pleaded guilty in October 2015 to conspiracy and immigration document fraud in relation to what federal prosecutors called “a sophisticated, extensive, and lucrative fraud scheme that operated for many years in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.”
The scheme — which may have generated as much as $6 million a year from citizens of South Korea, China and other nations — operated through Prodee University/Neo-America Language School; Walter Jay M.D. Institute, an Educational Center; and the American College of Forensic Studies. A fourth school in Alhambra, Likie Fashion and Technology College, was also involved in the scheme, which ran for at least six years.
Prodee and the other schools issued immigration documents to foreign nationals who were not bona fide students, had no intention of attending the schools, and sometimes lived outside of California.
As part of the conspiracy, the three defendants created bogus student records, including transcripts, for some of the students for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. In exchange for the immigration documents that allowed them to remain in the United States, the purported students made “tuition” payments to enroll and remain at the schools.
The investigation began in 2011 after a compliance team with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Student and Exchange Visitor Program, paid an unannounced visit to Prodee’s main campus on Wilshire Boulevard.
During the visit, the team observed only one English language class with three students in attendance, even though records indicated more than 900 foreign students were enrolled at Prodee’s two campuses. That same day, an unannounced visit to the forensic studies college found only one religion class in session with a single student present, even though the school had more than 300 foreign students in active status, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The former owner of the schools — Hee Sun “Leonard” Shim, 54, of Beverly Hills — pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiracy and immigration document fraud and was sentenced in April to 15 months in federal prison. He was also ordered by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu to forfeit to the United States about $500,000 in bank funds and cash seized by investigators.
A third defendant, Eun Young “Jamie” Choi, 38, of Los Angeles pleaded guilty in 2015 to the same charges and is awaiting sentencing.