Around the time William Singer’s college admissions controversy was becoming a hot topic back in March, another lesser known scandal involving a Chinese cheating ring was also being dismantled at the UCLA.
It was even on the exact same day, March 12, when the bribery scandal first made headlines, after the FBI reportedly arrested six people involved in a scheme that helped Chinese nationals cheat on English proficiency tests to acquire U.S. student visas.
Composed of five current and former UCLA students and another student at Cal State Fullerton, the suspects allegedly posed as the prospective students using fake passports.
While it also did get some media coverage back in March, the news about the incident was largely overshadowed by the major college admissions scandal that involved millions of dollars and members of the Hollywood elite.
Unlike the admissions scandals, this instead involved obtaining high TOEFL scores which are important for international students since many schools use them to assess the English proficiency level of non-native speakers.
According to the prosecutors, members of the cheating ring sat in place of the students for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) at different testing locations throughout Los Angeles.
Liu Cai, the 23-year-old ringleader, allegedly paid to register 14 people for the exam and paid three of the other test-takers $400 per exam in 2015 and 2016, according to LAist.
The rest of the defendants were identified as Quang Cao, 24, of San Francisco; Elric Zhang, 24, of Los Angeles and Tuan Tran, 33, Mohan Zhang, 24, of Cerritos (the only defendant currently studying at UCLA), and Samantha Wang, who attends Cal State Fullerton.
The scheme, dubbed by the feds as “Operation TOEFL Recall,” helped over 40 students cheat the language exams, reports the NY Post.
By passing TOEFL, the students were able to get into colleges such as Columbia, NYU and UCLA. Officials, however, noted that many of them were not able to graduate.
“Some of them weren’t able to cut the mustard, because that old adage, ‘If you’re cheating, you’re really cheating yourself,’” Homeland Security Investigations special agent Christopher Kuemmerle was quoted as saying. “We want to reserve those spots for honest, hard-working applicants.”
Charged with conspiring to use false passports, using false passports and aggravated identity theft, Cai and his co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty.
Similar test-taking fraud cases have been uncovered in recent years and have also resulted in arrests.
Since the cheating ring was exposed to the public, some have expressed their concerns regarding the rate of cheating among international students. Previously, a UC Santa Barbara professor claimed that while Chinese students made up only 6% of the student body, they were responsible for a third of the plagiarism cases at the university. The Wall Street Journal also claimed that foreign students were five times more likely to cheat when compared to domestic students.
However, it is also believed that Asian international students, especially Chinese nationals, are often scrutinized far more compared to their domestic peers, possibly making these statistics unreliable. For example, the University of Iowa investigated 30 students suspected of cheating in 2016 which inside sources claimed were, “most, perhaps all” Chinese nationals.
While it is unclear whether the students involved in the TOEFL scandal will face legal consequences, it is possible this incident could increase suspicion of other Chinese students.