A former USC admissions official accused of accepting thousands of dollars in payments to ensure graduate-school admission for unqualified international students has agreed to plead guilty to a federal wire fraud charge, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Thursday.
Hiu Kit David Chong admitted in his plea agreement that he falsified applicants' admission packets with doctored college transcripts, phony letters of recommendation and fraudulent personal statements, according to federal prosecutors.
Chong, a 36-year-old Arcadia resident, agreed to plead guilty to a one-count criminal information charging him with wire fraud, a felony carrying a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. He will be summoned to appear in Los Angeles federal court on a future date.
Chong, who was assistant director of USC's Office of Graduate Admissions from September 2008 to March 2016, told Chinese nationals that he could assist them in obtaining admission into a graduate degree program at the university, federal prosecutors allege.
Chong furthered his scheme by founding and running the now-defunct Monterey Park-based academic consulting company, So Cal International Group, court papers allege.
According to his plea agreement, from February 2015 to December 2018, Chong solicited and received payments — ranging from $8,000 to $12,000 — from unqualified international students or from others who were acting on behalf of the unqualified students.
The defendant allegedly purchased phony college transcripts purporting to be from Chinese universities and instructed his supplier to create transcripts to show falsely inflated grade point averages, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Chong admitted he submitted and caused the submission of the phony documents in the international students' USC application packets, including fraudulent letters of recommendation and fabricated personal statements purportedly written by the applicants, prosecutors said.
Chong also allegedly offered to research how to arrange for a surrogate test taker to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the results of which USC would consider when making decisions regarding admissions applications, according to court documents. In his plea agreement, Chong admitted that he concealed from the university that the applicants paid him to facilitate their admission.
Chong admitted in his plea agreement to helping three unqualified international students gain admission to USC using fraudulent application materials.
He admitted he was paid $38,000 from international students and people he believed were working with international students, including an undercover law enforcement official. He also received additional payments from other international students as part of the scheme, resulting in his ill-gotten gains of $40,000, federal prosecutors allege.
USC issued a statement saying the university cooperated with the federal investigation.
"Chong concealed these actions from the university and continued engaging in them for two and a half years after he left USC," according to the university. "Based on what we know, these actions were isolated to one rogue former employee."