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Laguna Niguel man accused of taking exams for foreign students for money pleads guilty to visa fraud

April 14, 2010 |  6:17 pm

Eamonn Daniel Higgins, the alleged mastermind behind a scheme to take exams and write papers for foreign students in exchange for money, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit visa fraud in U.S. District Court.

Between 2002 and 2009, dozens of foreign students – all from the Middle East – paid Higgins to attend school on their behalf so that their student visas would remain valid, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, which conducted an investigation.

Higgins, 46, a U.S. citizen who lives in Laguna Niguel, faces up to five years in federal prison at his sentencing in August.

Authorities believe Higgins earned hundreds of thousands of dollars helping about 120 people from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar maintain their student visa status.

Authorities said Higgins obtained counterfeit California driver’s licenses, took tests and exams and attended classes on the students’ behalf at different schools across Southern California, including Cal State L.A., Irvine Valley College and Santa Monica College.

He also hired staff to help with his scheme, including a blond woman who authorities believe posed as a Middle Eastern man.

Eight foreign students have also been charged with visa fraud; their cases are still pending.

--My-Thuan Tran