Federal authorities grounded the owner of a La Verne flight school on Wednesday for allegedly faking the visas for some of her international students.
The arrest of Karena Chuang followed a 17-month investigation into her flight school, Blue Diamond Aviation. A federal indictment has accused Chuang of helping students from Egypt, Sri Lanka and Taiwan bypass the two-step visa process for foreign nationals who want commercial pilot training.
While Chuang's school is not allowed to accept foreign nationals, Chuang herself allegedly posed as a cousin to potential students, applying in their names for admission to flight schools certified to enroll them.
If those applications worked, Chuang would then direct the students to take a visa eligibility form to US consulates or embassies in their home countries, and apply for clearance to study in the United States.
"She is not scrutinizing people nor does she have the ability to know whether or not they have terrorist ties, which is why the whole procedure exists," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, told The Associated Press.
"These people are actually going up in the air to get their training — they're getting access to aircraft, too, and we don't know who they are," he said.
Visa security officers were initially tipped off to Chuang's scheme when officials in Cairo reported that two Egyptian applicants to a Northern California flight school had intended to enroll at Blue Diamond Aviation instead.
The federal government tightened the visa application process for aviation students after Sept. 11, 2001. A visa fraud conviction can land a person in federal prison for up to 10 years.
The company’s website claims, “It’s our goal to help you make your dream a reality in the shortest, most efficient way,” and calls its training “affordable.”