Conjuring up 9-11, which was carried out in part by terrorists who'd used phony student visas to enter the States, federal prosecutors charged two Miami women this afternoon with running a bogus school in Miami to sell fake visas to foreigners. Lydia Menochal, who is 58, and 75-year-old Ofelia Macia earned more than $2.4 million by enrolling students in their Florida Language Institute, prosecutors say. (The school's artsy black and white website is still up and running here.)
The "vast majority" of students -- who came from Thailand, South Korea, Syria and elsewhere -- never attended class.
Eighty "students" from the institute were also arrested this morning by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers, prosecutors said. Most will soon be deported back to their home countries.
"In the post-September 11 world, programs that enroll foreign national students must be legitimate and comply with federal law," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sloman said at a meeting to announce the charges. "Failure to do so puts our community and nation at risk."
The Florida Language Institute was housed on SW 87th Ave., just south of the Tamiami Trail, in a nondescript pink strip mall.
Menochal and Macia issued Department of Homeland Security-approved documents to their students, who were required to attend at least 18 hours a week of class to qualify for their student visas.
Instead, the women pocketed the cash. It's not clear from the indictment whether the students were duped into paying for a bogus program, or if they paid for the documents knowing they'd have a free pass to party on South Beach and/or plot terror attacks every night.
Either way, the students are heading back to where they came from: Thailand, Syria, Honduras, South Korea, Japan, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Brazil.
The two women each face five year prison terms if convicted; Menochal also faces another 10 years for allegedly lying to investigators.