By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A group of 15 Chinese nationals in the U.S. and China schemed to have impostors take college entrance exams by using fake passports for identification in the hopes of obtaining student visas for entry to U.S. universities, federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh said Thursday.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said the defendants, including two living in Pittsburgh, defrauded Educational Testing Services and the College Board, which administer standardized tests, between 2011 and 2015 by either taking the tests for others or paying others to take the tests for them.
Prosecutors said some of the conspirators had counterfeit Chinese passports made in China and sent to the U.S., where they were used by the impostors to fool administrators into thinking they were other people before taking exams conducted in Pittsburgh and its suburbs.
The conspirators received the benefit of the impostors’ test scores on the SAT and other exams for use at American colleges, one of which is identified in the indictment as Northeastern University in Boston.
The 35-count indictment, handed up May 21 and unsealed Thursday, identifies some of the defendants as students who paid up to $6,000 for others in the U.S. to pretend to be them in taking tests, such as the SAT, at Barack Obama Academy, another testing site in Monroeville and elsewhere.
Five of the defendants are identified as test-takers, including the lead defendant, Han Tong, 24, of Pittsburgh.
Another local defendant was identified as Gong Zhang, 23, who prosecutors said received a fake passport at his address on North Craig Street in Oakland from an unidentified conspirator in China on April 1, 2013, and then used it in posing as someone else that day in taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language.
Prosecutors would not say how many students were able to get into American schools through the scheme but said the investigation is continuing.
“These students were not only cheating their way into the university, they were also cheating their way through our nation’s immigration system,” said John Kelleghan, agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Philadelphia, one of the investigating agencies.
It wasn’t clear how the scheme was discovered, but U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Educational Testing Services, based in New Jersey, and the New York-based College Board have cooperated with investigators.
One example of how the scheme typically worked involved Han Tong and Siyuan Zhao, 24, of Massachusetts.
On March 9, 2012, a conspirator accessed Mr. Zhao’s ETS online account and, using Han Tong’s credit card, bought a test to be taken in Mr. Zhao’s name at a Monroeville testing site using a fake passport.
The impostor took the test, prosecutors said, and on March 19 Mr. Zhao accessed the score and had it sent electronically to Northeastern University.
Mr. Zhao was arrested Thursday in Boston and was scheduled to appear in federal court there for a hearing in which prosecutors said they would seek his detention and have him brought to Pittsburgh for trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said Mr. Tong and 10 others will be issued summonses to appear in U.S. District Court to face the charges.
The names of three others, all in China, remained sealed.
These are the other named defendants: Biyuan Li, 25, of Boston; Jia Song, 20, of Santa Ana, Calif.; Ning Wei, 24, of China; Songling Peng, 19, of Watertown, Wis.; Xi Fu, 26, of Portland, Ore.; Xiaojin Guo, 20, of China; Yudong Zhang, 21, of Blacksburg, Va.; Yue Zou, 20, of Blacksburg, Va.; and Yunlin Sun, 24, of Berlin, Pa., and Pittsburgh.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.