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Student-visa-fraud ring busted in O.C.

March 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Authorities cracked down Monday on an alleged scheme to keep foreign students in the U.S. illegally using fraudulent documents and college scores.The alleged organizer of a visa fraud scheme involving foreign college students is now facing a criminal trial.

Golden West College in Huntington Beach is one of the affected schools.

Video shot by federal authorities shows dozens of students from Middle-Eastern countries being arrested in connection with an alleged visa fraud scheme.

Investigators say Eamon Higgins was the leader of a ring that helped more than 100 foreign students illegally obtain U.S. student visas over past several years. Higgins does not hold a college degree.

"He became well-known within the Middle-Eastern community, where individuals were now seeking him out to assume their identities in order to maintain their lawful status in the United States, fraudulently," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant special agent Jorge Guzman.

Authorities allege Higgins, 46, would assume students' identities through fake driver's licenses. He would either take entrance exams or attend classes for students to maintain their visa status in the U.S. in return for money.

"If he was taking and exam, he was getting approximately $1,000 to $1,200. If he was attending classes, it was obviously a little bit more."

Authorities allege Higgins took exams or attended classes using fake identification at 10 community colleges and universities in the Orange County/Los Angeles area. The investigation has been under way for the past eight months.

"The seriousness of this issue is the fact that we don't know the motivation behind these individuals coming into the United States. Obviously it poses a national security risk as well as to public safety," said Guzman.

Higgins could face up to five years in prison if convicted. His trial is set to begin in May.