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Woman accused of flight school visa fraud

November 30, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Federal agents on Wednesday arrested a Lake Elsinore woman accused of bringing foreign students to train at her flight school on fraudulent visas without government authorization.

Karena Chuang, 28, was arrested at a friend's house in Rancho Cucamonga, charged with visa fraud for allegedly enrolling students from Egypt, Sri Lanka and Taiwan at her La Verne-based flight school, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.

"It is a huge vulnerability," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. "If these people aren't going through the proper screening process that is required by the U.S. government, then we don't know their intentions, we don't know their origins."

Agents raided the flight school, Blue Diamond Aviation, confiscating boxes of material as evidence.

Investigators said Chuang assisted foreign students in applying to government-approved flight schools knowing they would instead enroll in her program, which was not approved.

The department says more than a dozen students gained entry into the U.S. under the scheme.

The alleged scheme began to unravel in June 2010 after U.S. embassy officials in Cairo got conflicting statements from two potential flight students.

"We do know for sure that the students were coached by her not to say that you're going to be attending Blue Diamond, her flight school, because they would be questioned by officials at the embassy," Arnold said.

The agency says they have not uncovered any threat to national security as a result of the fraud. Arnold said none of the foreign students who trained at Chuang's school since 2006 had ties to terrorism.

"We do have students who are identified who are cooperating with the investigation," Arnold said.

It isn't the first time flight schools have let foreigners train without proper authorization. In 2010, a flight school in El Cajon, Calif., pleaded guilty to creating fake visa documents for foreign students and a Massachusetts flight school was found to have trained illegal immigrants from Brazil.

If convicted, Chuang could face a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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