Ex-USC Admissions Official Admits He Helped Chinese Nationals Fake Their Applications For Money
Hiu Kit David Chong knew what it took to get into USC.
He worked in the university's admissions office as an assistant director focused on graduate students from China. He himself had attended USC as a business school student, according to his lawyer.
"He's a big booster of USC," said attorney Stanley Friedman. "He thinks it's a great school for the local youth and also for international students."
USC does not return the compliment, instead calling Chong a "rogue former employee" who federal prosecutors say defrauded the school by helping mediocre Chinese students cheat their way into USC.
Chong has admitted in a plea agreement that he made about $40,000 from six clients over several years by feathering their application files with fake transcripts, letters of recommendation and personal statements.
Three of his clients got into USC.
As part of a plea agreement, Chong will plead guilty to one count of wire fraud.
"I CAN GET YOU INTO SCHOOL"
This is the latest admissions scandal for USC, which was rocked last year by revelations that Newport Beach consultant Rick Singer had been bribing school officials to let in the children of his wealthy clientele.
Chong's case has echoes of a cheating ring at UCLA, where former and current students took English proficiency tests, or TOEFL, on behalf of applicants from China. Chong had offered to connect one of his clients with his own test-taking surrogate.
But Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, characterized Chong's case as more serious than that of the UCLA test-takers.
"Just having a passing grade on the TOEFL doesn't get you into school — there's a lot of other things that need to happen," Mrozek said. "What Mr. Chong was offering was, 'I can get you into school.'"
THE UNDERCOVER AGENT
One person Chong claimed to have helped didn't even exist.
In July 2017, about two years into Chong running this scheme, an undercover FBI agent e-mailed him on the pretext that a friend needed help getting his son into a U.S. college but had so-so grades, according to the plea agreement.
Over the course of the next year, Chong worked on buffing the fake student's application. For example, he submitted to USC a Chinese university transcript which gave the student a 3.47 GPA when it was supposed to be almost a full point lower.
In Nov. 2018, Chong informed the undercover agent that the applicant had gotten into USC. Chong billed the agent $8,500 to be paid to his academic consulting company in Monterey Park — So Cal International Group Inc.
Even after Chong left USC in 2016, he kept running his scam for another two years through his business.
Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment as to whether there were any related cases, only saying: "We are making no allegations that this is a widespread problem at USC or at other institutions here in Southern California."
USC in a statement batted away concerns that Chong's case had resulted from anything more than actions "isolated to one rogue former employee."
As for Chong, he's sorry to have disappointed USC, said his lawyer.
The U.S. citizen had moved to China in the last year but did not hesitate to come back to deal with his case, Friedman said.
"He's regretful and wants to make amends and face American justice," Friedman said.
His date to plead guilty in federal court has yet to be set.