Diploma Mill Functions as Immigration Scam

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
December 27, 2009

Samuel Chai Cho Oh, 65, who operates California Union University (CUU) in Fullerton, California, has been charged with operating a scheme that enabled foreigners to enter and remain in the United States by pretending that they were students at his school. The CUU Web site states that CUU was founded in 1979 and received approval from the California State Department of Education in 1986. The California Postsecondary Education Commission Web site describes CCU this way:

California Union University is established to train effective and helpful workers/students in various fields. CUU is dedicated to preparing men and women for a multiplicity of professional endeavors as well as to serve in the manifold ministries in local perishes, parachurch agencies, and educational institution [1].

Until October 2009, when its federal certification was revoked, CUU was authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to accept foreign students pursuing an education in religious and biblical studies, English as a second language (ESL) and oriental medicine.

Foreigners who wish to attend schools in the United States must first obtain an F-1 nonimmigrant visa. To obtain this status, they must present a certificate of eligibility from a government-approved school that has accepted them as full-time students. After the visa is granted, they may enter the United States 30 days before classes begin and must depart within 60 days after graduation. School are required to monitor their students’ progress and report when their studies are completed. The criminal complaint states that since 1999—in return for payment—Oh recruited “students” and filed false reports that enabled them to remain in the United States even though they were not attending classes [2].

In March 2009, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and a compliance team from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) paid an unannounced visit to the CUU campus. At the time, CUU had more than 300 students on its rolls. According to the case affidavit, Oh conceded during that visit that 75% of the school’s students did not attend class regularly and he could only produce course schedules for computer and ESL classes, even though the school was certified to accept foreign students in several other disciplines [3].

About two months later, a cooperating source familiar with Oh’s business dealings told the investigators that (a) Oh and his staff forged signatures and falsified financial documents to obtain F-1 student visas and R-1 religious worker visas, (no classes are taught at the school, and (c) Oh collected $40,000 to $50,000 per months in fees. The investigators also interviewed more than 30 foreign nationals who said they paid fees ranging from $600 to more than $10,000 for documentation enabling them to fraudulently obtain student visas and, in some cases, bogus degrees. One witness, who purportedly received a bachelor’s degree in education, recounted how Oh had staged a graduation ceremony at the campus in May, where students clad in caps and gowns, laughed as they received their phony diplomas.  

“Graduation” photo released by ICE

In October, ICE agents executed a search warrant at the school, seizing computers and more than 300 student files. A review of that evidence showed that while the majority of CUU’s enrollees were Korean, the school’s student body included foreign nationals from more than 20 countries.

Oh, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Korea, also serves as pastor at Union Church on the CUU campus. If convicted of the conspiracy charge, he faces up to five years in prison. In addition to the criminal charge, ICE has seized more than $400,000 deposited in two separate bank accounts maintained by Oh and an associate [3].

  1. California Union University. California Postsecondary Education Commission Web site, accessed Dec 28, 2009.
  2. Criminal complaint. USA v. Samuel Chai Cho Oh, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, Magistrate’s Case No. SA09-530M. Filed Dec 21, 2009.
  3. California pastor charged in visa fraud scheme: Foreign nationals allegedly paid defendant thousands for aid in illegally obtaining student visas. ICE news release, Dec 23, 2009.
    This article was posted on December 27, 2009.