Scammers Got More Than 1,000 Visas in Fake School Sting, Authorities Say

Obtained by ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Twenty-one people who allegedly helped more than 1,000 foreign nationals fraudulently obtain student visas were arrested this morning by federal agents in a nationwide sweep.

The foreign nationals are now working at companies throughout the United States illegally.

This was a "pay to stay" scheme, said U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul J. Fishman.

The arrests represent the conclusion of a three-year investigation into the exploitation-for-profit of non-immigrant student visas. Arrests were made in New York, Washington, New Jersey and Virginia by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

To help catch the alleged criminals, HSI federal agents set up a fake university, called the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), that provided work authorization for hundreds of "students."

Scammers Got More Than 1,000 Visas in Fake School Sting, Authorities SayObtained by ABC News

Many of 21 people charged operated recruiting companies for purported international students, according to the U.S. attorney. They were arrested for their involvement in an alleged scheme to enroll foreign nationals at UNNJ, a fake for-profit college located in Cranford, New Jersey. The alleged scammers and the foreign nationals who obtained visas believed the school was real.

However, it was created in September 2013 by HSI federal agents, complete with a Facebook page and website. It never had classes, only offices staffed by federal agents who posed as school administrators.

"The University of Northern New Jersey was just another stop on the pay-to-stay tour," said Fishman.

The people accused in the scheme, enabled approximately 1,076 foreign individuals, primary from China and India, to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status in the U.S. on "the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at the UNNJ", according to the U.S. attorney.

They also allegedly also used UNNJ to fraudulently obtain work authorization and work visas for hundreds of their clients. The 21 people were charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and other offenses.

"They did not know, nor did they care one wit, as to the students who were coming in what purposes they came into the country for and if they had any ill intent," said ICE Director Sarah Saldaña at Tuesday's press conference.

Undercover agents told each defendant in conversations that were secretly recorded that the university was a sham devised to get immigration status for foreign nationals, said Fishman.

The so-called students will now be placed under administrative arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their alleged complicity in the scheme. They will be placed into immigration proceedings and likely deported.

Those who bought the phony papers work for the U.S. military, as well as Facebook, Google and other well-known companies, according to a law enforcement official. The buyers were "fully aware" they were acquiring fraudulent documents, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

The companies are not implicated in the scheme and were unaware of the fraud. They are just finding out Tuesday that their employees allegedly used fake documents.

The case exposes a potential route to the United States for would-be terrorists and touches the political controversy over the H-1B visa, a nonimmigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

"‘Pay to Stay’ schemes not only damage our perception of legitimate student and foreign worker visa programs, they also pose a very real threat to national security," Fishman said.

The arrests come a year and a half after an ABC News investigation found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had lost track of more than 6,000 foreign nationals who entered the U.S. on student visas. The investigation also found dozens of schools suspected of being no more than visa mills for foreigners.

Tightening up the student visa program was one of the major recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, after it was determined that the hijacker who flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had entered the U.S. on a student visa but never showed up for school.

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Protests erupt from Boston to California as Confederate monument tensions boil over

Protests erupt from Boston to California as Confederate monument tensions boil overSpencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The weekend after a white nationalist rally collapsed into chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, leading to the alleged murder of an anti-racism activist, protests erupted across the country against white supremacy, racism and the presence of Confederate monuments.

Boston, Massachusetts

Tens of thousands counterprotesting a rally purporting to be about free speech swarmed Boston on Saturday, leading to a few conflicts with police and widespread attention from traditional and social media.

A total of 33 arrests were made Saturday in Boston, primarily resulting from disorderly conduct and alleged assaults against police officers, the Boston Police Department said. Police indicated that some demonstrators were throwing rocks and bottles of urine, but that did not represent the majority of participants, according to Police Commissioner William Evans.

"99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reasons" and participated peacefully, Evans said.

Dallas, Texas

Thousands of demonstrators gathered around the area of Dallas City Hall Saturday at a rally calling for unity, according to ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.

More than a dozen activists, politicians and faith leaders spoke prior to a candlelight vigil, the affiliate reported.

Tensions were high near Confederate War Memorial Park, where calls have been growing to remove statues commemorating Civil War veterans who fought for the Confederacy, WFAA-TV reported.

Cotton candy and caramel apples for sale for $3 in the middle of this protest against Dallas' Confederate War Memorial.

— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) August 20, 2017

Monuments commemorating the Confederacy on public land "must be and will be removed," Dallas Mayor Dwaine Caraway said at a Friday press conference, which featured black members of Dallas's City Council, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Kevin Felder, one of the City Council members, said "taxpayer dollars should not support vestiges of racism and white supremacy," in reference to the statues, while speaking at Friday's press conference.

Five people were detained during Saturday’s rally and then released without charges, the Dallas Police Department told ABC News.

Memphis, Tennessee

Six demonstrators were arrested in Memphis following a rally to remove a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slavetrader and lieutenant general who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, according to ABC affiliate WATN-TV.

The monument has become a flashpoint of tension between anti-racism activists, who covered it with anti-racist signs on Saturday, and those who seek to protect the history of the Confederacy.

Gene Andrews, a caretaker for Nathan Bedford Forrest's boyhood home and a participant in the white nationalist rally that took place in Charlottesville last week, told the Tennessean newspaper that tensions over the monuments were building.

"I think people have had enough," Andrews told the paper. "Somewhere there’s going to be a line drawn. And if it’s a war that’s coming, so be it."

Our beloved @tamisawyer and other activists calling on @MayorMemphis remove Confederate statues. #TakeEmDown901

— Broderick Greer (@BroderickGreer) August 16, 2017

Atlanta, Georgia

Hundreds of groups gathered in Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday in Atlanta to march against racism and hate, according to ABC affiliate WSB-TV.

The march ended at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the affiliate reported.

Hundreds of anti-racism marchers quietly filing into Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta. #Charlottesville

— Rikki Klaus (@RikkiKlausWSB) August 20, 2017

Indianapolis, Indiana

Anthony Ventura, a 30-year-old man, was arrested after police said he damaged the Confederate statue with a hammer, according to ABC affiliate WRTV.

Laguna Beach, California

In Laguna Beach on Saturday, a group of about 300 demonstrators met for a pre-emptive response to a far-right rally planned for that day, the Los Angeles Times reported. At the rally, participants planned to call attention to victims of crimes committed by immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Thank you to Saturday's rally at Main Beach for staying peaceful while expressing your First Amendment rights. #LagunaBeach

— Laguna Beach Police (@LagunaBeachPD) August 19, 2017

Saturday’s gathering of counterprotesters, which was set up to show solidarity and strength, was officially called “From Charlottesville to Laguna Beach: We Stand Together.” Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman helped organize the event and spoke to the crowd on Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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