Student visa fraud at Fla. school alleged

Associated Press / March 5, 2010

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MIAMI - A language school helped illegally obtain student visas for foreign nationals who never went to class, violating laws enacted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, exposed weaknesses in the program, authorities said yesterday.

Eighty-one student visa holders purportedly studying at the Florida Language Institute have been arrested. None were on any federal watch list or linked to terrorism, US authorities said, though investigators were checking their backgrounds.

“We don’t know exactly what they were doing,’’ said US Attorney Jeffrey Sloman.

The school’s owner, Lydia Menocal, 58, and employee Ofelia Macia, 75, allegedly made $2.4 million over the past three years from foreign nationals applying for US student visas. It was not clear how much they charged each student for the paperwork, authorities said.

Menocal and Macia were charged with conspiring to commit an offense against the United States, and Menocal faces other charges, including falsifying immigration documents, according to a grand jury indictment.

Messages left for Menocal at the school and for the women’s attorney were not immediately returned.

Of the approximately 200 students enrolled at Florida Language Institute in each of the past three years, only 5 percent regularly attended class, said Anthony Mangione, chief of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Miami office.

One student visa holder was processed for deportation and released, and the rest remain in ICE custody.

Some of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks had student visas to stay in this country, including one who never showed up for class at a California language school.