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Man charged in sweeping student visa fraud case

Eamonn Daniel Higgins spent seven years attending college.

Between 2002 and 2009, he attended 10 different schools in Southern California, including Cal State Los Angeles, Irvine Valley College and Santa Monica College, according to federal prosecutors. During that time, he studied sociology, marketing, English, business and math.

The problem was that Higgins hadn’t registered for any of the courses, authorities said. Rather, dozens of foreign students -- mostly from the Middle East -- were paying him to sit in class, take exams and write papers for them so their student visas would remain valid, according to a charging document filed in the case. Students paid up to $1,500 for course assignments and finals and up to $1,000 for English and writing proficiency exams, the document said.

Investigators with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the demand was so great that he hired employees, including a blond woman who they believe posed as an Middle Eastern man to take a test. Agents are continuing to investigate the case and believe Higgins had several co-conspirators.

On Monday, Higgins, 46, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Santa Ana to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. During the brief hearing, Higgins told the judge he wasn’t working. He faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted. 

Higgins and his attorney, federal public defender Elizabeth Macias, declined comment.

Authorities believe he has helped more than 100 foreign students from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

"We have seen visa fraud schemes before, but we have never seen anything quite like this,” said Debra Parker, Los Angeles acting special agent in charge of investigations for the immigration agency. “This is something really sophisticated.”

Though immigration agents said they don’t believe that any of the students had links to terrorism, Parker said Monday the agency was still investigating. “It definitely highlights some of the vulnerability, the way these people were able to go and compromise the integrity of the immigration system,” Parker said.

Immigration agents on Monday morning also arrested 16 students who they believe hired Higgins and his staff. Six of the students have been charged criminally, while the others face immigration charges and possible deportation. Agents plan to interview the students in an effort to determine their motives.

The investigation began last summer after police in Daly City, Calif., found a wallet with seven fake California driver’s licenses, all with a photo of Higgins’ nephew, according to court documents.

-- Anna Gorman in Los Angeles and My-Thuan Tran in Santa Ana

Photo: ICE

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Comments () | Archives (34)

Suspicions confirmed. Many of us working with some engineers from that part of the world have wondered how they appeared so incompetent even at a grade school level while claiming college degrees and even engineering licenses. No wonder our country is going downhill with these type of frauds going on. I am sure this is just the tip of thousands that bought their way into good jobs, especially government jobs because of the strong anti-discrimination laws. Stupid is not a fireable offense. Besides, if they can't do the work, someone else does if for them and that frees them to pursue their real estate businesses on work time. Higgins is a traitor to our country just like any terriorist and should go to gitmo!

It's so ironic that latino kids who came here as kids & went through the school system can't get an ID to go to community college here, but well-heeled Middle Easterners (maybe not even kids, maybe terrorists) can sweep in here on a student visa, hire someone else to take classes for them, and then just kick it & party (or who knows what else.)

Where are the ethics of these AMERICANS who take bribes to impersonate the Middle Easterners?

Wow.

I'm glad this got investigated. You know it's happening all over.

I am just happy they are not Mexican. Their would be a massive political tsunami if they were. But i guess since they are middle-eastern, they are the right kind of brown.

This doesn't surprise me, I reported someone that is HERE illegally, that bought someone at a passport issuing office in his home country, so he could get a passport, so he could travel the USA. I passed this information to ICE , 4 months later they have done nothing.

Friends, countrymen, and Californians,

This is capitalism! This guy should get a stimulus package gold medal!! We need more of these guys---it's a win win for everybody (well, as long as the guy pays taxes or the IRS just seizes the dough)
What bad thing really happened, after all? A bunch of Lebanese guys can now claim that passed English? They got degrees in Business Admin they didn't deserve? Stand in line! Anybody have any idea of what academic degrees are worth from Arab countries--not a nickel. Instead, an enterprising American just facilitated the fraud that you get with any Arab university.

I'm pretty sure there are other foreign student nationals out there paying US citizens for services like this man provided, but you can't tell me the thought of "terrorism" by the Feds isn't justified. they really have to look at all angles and then rule them out. it's just investigation work 101.

We had our dog implanted with a RFID chip. Two years later, one ENORMOUS cancerous tumor encapsulated the chip. The vet operated on her twice and couldn't remove it. She died last year at age seven.

The great thing here is everyone has an opinion. The bad part is some of them feel the need to share them.

There is a lot more of this that goes on than most people realize. It goes on in other countries as well, and it involves not only students from the Middle East, but also from the former USSR, China, India and just about any other country... When the family has wealth & expects their scions to slide effortlessly into positions of great privilege, they believe it is "normal" to hire a "servant" to do the actual work... The only real way to tell if a student is doing her or his own work is to hold an oral examination, with 100% confirmation of identity. What is even more alarming, if you give it a second thought, is that plenty of these people with bought credentials are then inserted into positions of considerable influence over the lives of others... Meanwhile, we have our own highly qualified youngsters who can't afford a premium education, much less college, and are thereby lost to the society they might well have bettered!

Enforcement is the problem, not enough funds for it and not enough agents. Make an example of this guy and the next one might think twice, if not make another example of him too. A few well publicized cases and this problem takes care of itself. Foreigners will find other crimes to commite.

 
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