In a crisp gray suit, United States Attorney Jeffery Sloman told a room full of TV news reporters today that the Department of Homeland Security has completed "the largest Visa fraud take-down in the agency's history." Dubbed "Operation Class Dismissed," the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sting centers around the director of a Miami-based English language school called Florida Language Institute. (Read more about it here.)
Lydia Menocal, 58, was arrested Tuesday for allegedly selling student Visas to foreigners posing as pupils. She was charged with making false statements on immigration documents. ICE authorities said less than five percent of her 200 students actually attended class and that 80 students are currently in custody. "Many of those responsible for the attacks on the World Trade center and the Pentagon were foreign nationals who abused the student Visa program," Sloman added. "This is an important case today."
Reporters were quick to point out that linking the school to 911 was -- at least a little bit -- bizarre. Most of the foreigners arrested were 20-somethings from Thailand, for one, with no noted criminal records. None of them has known links to extremist groups, nor are they homeland security persons of interest.
Asked how many of the individuals involved in 911 had student Visas, U.S. Attorney Sloman said he didn't know. "Probably a majority."
Lydia Menocal, the schools director, could not be reached immediately for comment. Contacted at home, her brother Juan Menocal would say only: "It's not true."
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The indictment also names Menocal's office manager, 75-year-old Ofelia Macia. It demands that Menocal hand over $2.4 million in cash "which represents proceeds of the criminal activity."