Allegations Against Tri-Valley University: Complaint for Forfeiture of Properties

Many MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers are following the ongoing saga of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid of Tri-Valley University (TVU). On January 19, 2011, the U.S. Attorney filed a complaint seeking the forfeiture of properties belonging to Susan Xiao-Ping Su, TVU’s Chief Operating Officer and Founder. The complaint is based on allegations that Ms. Su, and unnamed others, engaged in an elaborate scheme of immigration-related fraud. The government’s complaint is summarized here for our readers.

Background: ICE Raid

Those who are not familiar with the TVU raid can review recent news on this topic, including our January 21, 2011 NewsFlash! ICE Raid at Tri-Valley University Impacts Many, available on MurthyDotCom. In the days that have followed, numerous TVU students, most of whom are from India, have been questioned and, in some cases, placed in removal (deportation) proceedings. The removal efforts are based on allegations that the student status of these individuals is no longer valid. Those who have not been placed in removal remain fearful. This is clear from numerous consultations the Murthy Law Firm has had with former TVU students.

Complaint is Civil: No Criminal Charges as Yet

At the time of this writing, there have been no criminal charges filed against TVU employees or officers. On January 19, 2011, however, a complaint for civil forfeiture was filed in United States District Court, in San Francisco, California. This complaint seeks to seize five properties owned by Susan Su, the Chief Operating Officer and founder of TVU. In the forfeiture complaint, the U.S. government alleges that the properties owned by Su were purchased using money obtained from illegal activities at TVU. Under U.S. law, the proceeds of illegal activity (including items purchased with money earned through illegal activities) are subject to seizure by the U.S. government in some circumstances. The complaint provides some insight into what the U.S. government believes happened at TVU. These are merely allegations, at present. Nothing has been proven against TVU or its officers, yet. Among the allegations made by the U.S. government in the complaint are the following.

Allegation: Fraud in Obtaining Certification

TVU officials allegedly provided fraudulent documents and information in order to gain approval under the Department of Homeland Security’s program for international students called the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Approval under the SEVP program permits a college or university to admit foreign students and to issue I-20 forms, which serve as the basis for obtaining or extending F-1 foreign student status.

The TVU approval was more complicated than for most other colleges and universities. TVU is not a properly accredited secondary institution. Thus, for TVU to gain SEVP approval, it was required to provide proof that at least three accredited colleges and/or universities would accept credits earned by TVU students seeking to transfer schools. In support of this requirement, TVU allegedly submitted three “articulation” agreements from accredited colleges, indicating that those colleges would accept TVU credits for transferring students. ICE investigators allegedly determined that at least two of these articulation agreements were fraudulent and that the colleges named would not accept TVU transfer credits, nor had they ever done so.

Allegation: False Reporting of Class Attendance

In the complaint, the U.S government also alleges that TVU officials falsely reported that students were attending classes when, in specific instances, they were not actually attending classes or had, in fact, never attended classes at TVU. Under the requirements of the SEVP program, school officials are required to update the computerized database known as SEVIS when an F-1 student ceases attending classes or fails to report for classes initially.

Improper Reactivation of TVU Students

According to the complaint, during the course of the investigation, ICE agents sent an individual (now a witness) to the TVU admissions office with personal information regarding two foreign students whose status had previously been terminated in the SEVIS system. The witness requested to enroll two “friends” at TVU. After payment of the tuition, TVU allegedly enrolled the two foreign students and reactivated their records in the SEVIS system.

ICE Agent Poses as CBP Inspector at Airport to Verify TVU Students’ I-20s

Furthering this investigation, an ICE agent called TVU several months later, posing as a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer calling from the airport. The ICE agent requested confirmation that the students were in good standing at TVU. Allegedly, Susan Su responded by eMail to the officer, confirming that the students were in good standing. According to the complaint, this confirmation eMail transmitted I-20 forms, transcripts, and letters confirming the claim of good standing at TVU; this, despite the fact that neither student had ever attended any classes at the school.

Allegation: False California Address for Students

The complaint further alleges that, of the more than 1,000 TVU foreign students, half were reported in the SEVIS database by TVU to be living in a single apartment unit in Sunnyvale, California. The complaint states that the property manager for the apartment building informed ICE agents that no TVU students had lived in that apartment since August 2009. Allegedly, this was to conceal the fact that most TVU students did not reside in California, as would be necessary to physically attend classes. (TVU offered online classes, only. One online class per semester is all that is permitted under the F-1 student program.)

Allegation: Illegal Referral Pyramid Scheme Among Students

Another allegation against TVU involves a referral network. It is alleged that TVU had a referral program for its students, described in the complaint as a “pyramid scheme.” Allegedly, students at TVU received 20 percent of the tuition payments from any student that they referred to the school. They also, in turn, would receive five percent of the tuition payment for any student whom the “referred” student later referred to TVU.

Conclusion: Possible Criminal Charges / TVU Still in SEVP Database

The allegations made in the forfeiture complaint involve a pervasive course of fraudulent conduct on the part of TVU’s Chief Operating Officer and unnamed others associated with TVU. The complaint provides significant insight into the cause of the ICE investigation. It remains to be seen whether criminal charges will be filed against Susan Su or others employed by or otherwise affiliated with TVU. Of course, of greater concern to most MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers is the fate of the more than one thousand foreign students caught in the investigation and raid of TVU.

The Murthy Law Firm sent a letter on February 3, 2011, to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Director of ICE, and the Ombudsman requesting that DHS and ICE grant leeway and provide TVU students who were innocent with 60 days of grace period after their termination in SEVIS records. [See Murthy Urges DHS, ICE & CIS Ombudsman to Help TVU Students, 04.Feb.2011.] Due to procedural requirements for terminating SEVP certification, Tri-Valley University still shows up as an approved school in the latest list of SEVP approved schools and universities dated February 7, 2011.

Readers can follow further developments in the TVU case on MurthyDotCom and in the MurthyBulletin. Any TVU students who have not yet consulted a competent immigration attorney regarding their status are urged to do so without further delay.

Copyright © 2011, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.