Student pleads guilty to cheating

Updated: 2015-07-20 06:36

By NIU YUE in New York(China Daily USA)

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The first of 15 Chinese students charged in a China-based test-taking scam has pleaded guilty in US federal court in Pittsburgh.

Li Biyuan, 25, a Chinese national living in Boston, was accused of using a fake passport containing his personal information but a proxy test-taker's picture so the proxy could take a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) on Li's behalf in November 2014.

During a July 16 hearing, Li pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, acknowledging that he paid the proxy nearly $6,000 to take the GRE for him and with arranging to have a proxy test taker use a counterfeit passport to do so.

After the hearing, Li was allowed to return home, where he'll be confined by wearing an electronic ankle bracelet until he returns to Pittsburgh for sentencing on Oct 30.

If convicted, the charges carry up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But as a foreign national with no criminal record, Li is more likely to receive probation and be deported.

Li's attorney, Samir Sarna, is negotiating with the government to have him sentenced sooner because the likely result will be his deportation.

Assistant U.S. prosecutor James Kitchen told the District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti that Li, who has a bachelor's degree from an American university, was hoping to get into graduate school. Neither prosecutors nor Li's attorney would say where he got his bachelor's degree.

Li used the Chinese live-chat platform QQ-chat to contact a China-based test-taking service in November.

Li then forged a passport using his information with a photo of Tong Han, 24, of Pittsburgh and shipped by DHL to the Pittsburgh area so Tong could take the test for Li.

Li then wired $5,990 from his Massachusetts bank account to a Chinese account.

After the test was taken, Li submitted fraudulent scores to at least eight graduate schools, including Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Cornell University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University.

According to the indictment, the conspiracy operated for at least four years. The defendants paid impostors to take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the GRE under false names between 2011 and 2015, mainly in western Pennsylvania.

The people who paid to have the entrance exams taken would use the results to gain admission to colleges in the United States, which would allow them to obtain student visas, prosecutors said.

Both the test-takers and the people they claimed to be were charged.

Nine other people, including accused ringleaders Tong and Sun Yunlin pleaded not guilty last month to charges stemming from the scam.

Kitchen said Tong and Sun were expected to change their pleas.

Seven other Chinese students have pleaded not guilty to either taking tests fraudulently or buying fake scores.

Two more defendants in the case are scheduled to enter pleas in two weeks.

Hong Xiao in New York contributed to this story.