Chinese national pleads guilty in Pennsylvania to test-taking scam

PITTSBURGH - The first of more than a dozen people charged in a China-based testing scam, in which clients paid imposters to take standardised tests and used the scores to apply to elite US universities, pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Thursday in Pittsburgh federal court.

Biyuan Li, 25, of Boston, was accused of helping create a fake passport for Han Tong, 24, of Pittsburgh, so that Tong could take a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for him, prosecutors said.

Accused members of the ring used counterfeit Chinese passports to take the exams and pose as the person who was applying to top schools, prosecutors said.

Li, a Chinese national, submitted fraudulent scores in 2014 to graduate schools at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Cornell University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University, prosecutors said.

Li told authorities he paid nearly US$6,000 (S$8,200) to someone based in China for the test-taking service.

Between 2011 and 2015, mainly in western Pennsylvania, the defendants paid imposters to take the SAT, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the GRE under false names, according to federal prosecutors.

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

Li will be sentenced on Oct. 30. He faces the possibility of five years in prison and deportation.

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

Assistant US prosecutor James Kitchen said Sun and Tong were expected to change their pleas.

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

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