- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The first of 15 Chinese citizens indicted in a college entrance exam test-taking scandal pleaded guilty Thursday before a federal judge in Pittsburgh.

Biyuan Li, 25, of Boston pleaded guilty to conspiracy, acknowledging that he paid nearly $6,000 to have the Graduate Record Examination taken for him in December and with arranging to have a proxy test taker use a fake passport to do so.

Li was allowed to return home where he’ll be confined by wearing an electronic ankle bracelet until he returns to Pittsburgh for sentencing Oct. 30, after which he could be deported. The crime carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But a foreign national with no criminal record, like Li, is more likely to receive probation and be deported.

Those indicted last month are either students, like Li, who are charged with paying to have others take the tests, or are people who allegedly acted as proxies and took the tests for fees up to $6,000.

The grand jury indictment says the scam involved tests run by Educational Testing Service and the College Board - such as the GRE and the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT - that were taken by proxies at various western Pennsylvania sites since 2011.

Li and his attorney spent about 30 minutes during the hearing at sidebar, whispering about the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jimmy Kitchen and Chief U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti. Such discussions are often held during guilty plea hearings so both sides can discuss the terms of a plea agreement that they don’t want publicized.

Li and his defense attorney, Samir Sarna, declined comment. Kitchen would speak only about the facts he laid forth publicly before the judge.

The prosecutor told the judge that Li used a Chinese Internet forum called qq-chat to contact a China-based test-taking service in November. Li, who already has a bachelor’s degree from an American university, was hoping to get into graduate school. Neither prosecutors nor Li’s attorney would say where he got his bachelor’s degree.

Li also sent his passport to the Chinese test-taking service. A phony passport containing Li’s personal information but a proxy test-taker’s picture was shipped by DHL to the Pittsburgh area so that person could take the test for Li. Li then wired $5,990 from his Massachusetts bank to a Chinese account, Kitchen said.

After the test was taken, Li accessed his online account and requested that his test results be sent to universities, including Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, and New York University, Kitchen said. The results of the test and whether Li was admitted to a graduate school were not disclosed at the hearing.

Sarna asked the judge if she might consider an expedited sentencing for Li, saying he doesn’t plan to contest any effort by the government to deport Li. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun deportation proceedings against Li.

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