(WXYZ) — Federal agents from the Homeland Security Investigations unit used a fake university located in Farmington Hills to help find fake foreign students who were allegedly scamming the system to stay in the United States.
According to an indictment unsealed in federal court on Wednesday, agents began using the University of Farmington, located in Farmington Hills, to "identify recruiters and entities engaged in immigration fraud."
The indictment states that the university was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum, no classes and no education activities. From February 2017 until earlier this month, undercover agents posed as owners and employees of the university.
According to the indictment, the university was being used by foreign citizens as a "pay-to-stay" scheme which allowed them to stay in the United States by saying they were enrolled as full-time students in an institution that was certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which is run by the Department of Homeland Security.
"Each of the foreign citizens who 'enrolled' and made 'tuition' payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study - a 'pay to stay' scheme,'" the indictment reads. "Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT (curricular practical training) program."
It goes on to allege that each student knew the university's programs were not approved by Homeland Security and that it was illegal.
In all, the eight people charged were recruiters for the university and profited from the scheme, the indictment alleges. It also said that they created fake student records and transcripts with the intent of deceiving authorities.
"In exchange or cash, kickbacks, 'scholarships' and tuition credits, the defendants enlisted hundreds of foreign citizens to enroll at the university," the indictment said. "The defendants, in furtherance of the fraud scheme, conspired with foreign citizens to fraudulently maintain their non-immigrant status as 'students' and helped them unlawfully stay and obtain employment authorization in the United States."
The university has a .edu website set up with a physical address to a building on Northwestern Highway just south of 13 Mile.
In the "about us" page, the university said, "University of Farmington traces its lineage back to the early 1950s, when returning soldiers from the Second World War were seeking a quality and marketable education. At the time, Detroit was the center of innovation and manufacturing. Skilled and motivated workers were in short supply. Large and small Colleges and Universities developed programs to assuage this demand. For one such school, the Detroit Engineering Institute (DEI), founded in 1912, it was the golden era for a skills based engineering education. In today’s parlance, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program equal parts classroom and workplace. Sadly, DEI closed in 1989, coinciding with the demise of Detroit and its industrial prowess. Now, with the much-publicized rebirth of Detroit and its growing advanced manufacturing and technology economy, there again is a need for motivated workers, who possess the education and skills needed to compete in the 21st century."
Khaalid Walls, with the Detroit ICE Enforcement office clarified that the individuals were not undocumented or illegal aliens. His statement is below:
"These individuals are not undocumented or illegal aliens. An undocumented alien is someone who illegally enters the country without documentation. ICE often doesn’t know that an undocumented alien exists until we encounter that person.
Instead, these foreign nationals are nonimmigrant aliens. They were admitted to the U.S. as nonimmigrant students using an F-1 visa based on the fact that they were going to attend an SEVP-certified school. Upon their arrival in the U.S., they transferred to the University of Farmington, which offered no academic or vocational programs of any kind. “Fake foreign students” would be more accurate."