An Orange County man faces charges that he ran a visa fraud scheme involving foreign students at several community colleges and three Cal State campuses. Eamonn Daniel Higgins of Laguna Niguel pleaded not guilty in Santa Ana today to a charge of conspiring to commit visa fraud.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the 46-year-old man spearheaded a visa fraud operation.
They say between 2002 and last year, foreign students paid him thousands of dollars to take their final exams, placement tests and English proficiency exams. The students needed to pass those exams to remain in the country legally with their visas.
Authorities say Higgins would obtain counterfeit California drivers' licenses to take the tests for the students, or he’d have one of his associates sit for the exams.
Officials say the campuses included Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, El Camino College in Torrance, Cal State L.A., Cal State Long Beach and Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Immigration officials say the dozens of students who hired Higgins are from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries.
So far, authorities have arrested at least 16 students in Orange and L.A. counties in connection with the case.
If convicted, Higgins could face up to five years in federal prison.