LOS ANGELES — In exchange for money, a former admissions official at the University of Southern California helped graduate students from China gain acceptance to the school by submitting doctored transcripts, fraudulent letters of recommendation and bogus personal statements in their applications, according to a plea agreement filed in federal court.
Hiu Kit David Chong, an assistant director in USC’s Office of Graduate Admissions from 2008 to 2016, agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in an agreement signed last month and unsealed Wednesday.
Between February 2015 and December 2018, Chong purchased college transcripts from a supplier in China, who charged $1,000 to $2,000 per phony academic record, the plea agreement said. Chong submitted the transcripts, along with fake letters of recommendation and personal statements, on behalf of three international students who were admitted to graduate programs at USC.
Identified only by their initials — F.J., Z.L., and S.L. — they each paid Chong between $8,000 and $10,000, according to the plea agreement.
Chong has admitted falling for an FBI ruse that lured him into presenting a fictitious international applicant — “Lin Guoqiang” — to USC with doctored transcripts, in exchange for $8,500 in cash. Remarkably, the fake applicant was admitted to USC, Chong told the undercover agent. The ruse began in July 2017, when an agent emailed Chong with the subject line, “Help to get in university.” The agent was masquerading as “Alex,” whose friend’s son, Guoqiang, was applying to American universities with only a 2.1 grade-point average.
In a recorded phone call, Chong told the agent that while he couldn’t fabricate scores for standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record Examinations and Test of English as a Foreign Language, he could pay a surrogate to take it for him, the plea agreement said.
The following year, Chong met the agent in Los Angeles. The agent handed Chong Guoqiang’s transcript from a Chinese university, showing a 2.6 GPA. Four months later, the plea agreement said, Chong submitted an application on behalf of Guoqiang. His GPA was a 3.47.
In November 2018, Chong told the agent that the fictitious Guoqiang had been admitted to USC. The agent met him in December 2018 and handed over $8,500 in cash, according to the plea agreement. In all, Chong admitted collecting about $40,000 from international students and people he believed to be international students.
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