Former USC official admits to taking bribes from students from China

April 2, 2020
Former assistant director of graduate admissions agrees to plead guilty for accepting payments to admit otherwise unqualified students from China.

A former University of Southern California admissions officer has admitted to profiting by making phony profiles for unqualified students from China and getting them into the private Los Angeles school,

NBC News reports that David Chong, 36, an assistant director in USC's Office of Graduate Admissions from 2008 to 2016, has agreed to plead guilty to a count of wire fraud, according to court documents.

The case, led by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, is separate from the Boston-based "Operation Varsity Blues," which broke up a huge college admission scam last year.

From February 2015 to December 2018, Chong solicited and received payments of $8,000 to $12,000 to help undergraduates from China gain gain admission into USC graduate programs, according to the plea agreement. Chong netted about $40,000 from the scheme, prosecutors say.

The international students were "not otherwise qualified for admission," according to the plea agreement.

Chong prepared false supporting documents that included fraudulent recommendations and inflated grades, prosecutors say. He even offered a sliding payment scale depending on how much he'd have to fake a student's qualifications.

In a 2017 e-mail exchange with a prospective client, Chong said he'd charge $5,000 for a student who had a 3.0 grade-point average and a "decent" score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, prosecutors say. But it'd cost $15,000 to help admit a student with a low GPA, to go along with a surrogate test taker.

Prosecutors don't know whether Chong followed through to arrange for a surrogate test taker.

"The university has cooperated with the government's investigation," USC said in a statement. "Chong concealed these actions from the university and continued engaging in them for two and a half years after he left USC. Based on what we know, these actions were isolated to one rogue former employee."

Chong will ask for probation or house arrest. He is a U.S. citizen but had moved to China to start a business when he learned of the prosecution earlier this year, his lawyer says.

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