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ICE busts L.A. student-visa scam

April 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Federal agents crack a local visa scam. English-language schools were allegedly used as a front to get student visas for Russian prostitutes and other foreigners. A Beverly Hills man who ran the schools was arrested.Authorities say he is a native of Iran who is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

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Federal officials say this is one of the largest student-visa fraud schemes that they've ever seen on the West Coast. They say the man behind the scheme is 50-year-old Behzad "Ben" Zaman of Beverly Hills. They say he operated two English-language schools, both of them on Wilshire Blvd., including the Concord English Language Center and the International College for English Studies.

Wednesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents searched the school for evidence after Zaman was taken into custody. Zaman is facing 14 counts of alleged visa fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering.

Authorities say Zaman helped foreign nationals from around the world to obtain student visas, even though they had no intention of attending the schools, and they were fraudulently trying to remain in the United States.

According to an affidavit, several students described how they came here on a student visa but didn't attend class, and how they paid Zaman monthly so he would not report them to Immigration officials.

"This was a fraud scheme that he was operating on his own," said Jennifer Silliman, U.S. ICE. "This was a way to fill his pockets. We have students that were paying tuition, essentially, but rather than going into the school, it was going into his pocket. And then in order to keep them in status and to keep their visas valid, he would charge them almost monthly, to keep them in status."

Officials say most students were paying Zaman hundreds of dollars a month to keep their student visa status. The students are said to be from Uzbekistan, Latvia, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries. According to the affidavit, some were even Russian prostitutes.

ICE is not saying if it plans to prosecute any of the students involved in this scheme. All they will say is that their investigation is ongoing.

 

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