UPDATE: Defendant pleads guilty (details below) . . .
Eamon Daniel Higgins, 46, of Laguna Niguel, pleaded guilty in federal court today to conspiracy for allegedly orchestrating a visa fraud scheme involving dozens of Middle Eastern students enrolled at Southern California colleges and universities, including Irvine Valley College.
Higgins faces up to five years in federal prison at his August sentencing.
He obtained counterfeit California driver's licenses, took tests and exams and attended classes on behalf of students from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar. Co-conspirators helped Higgins with his scheme, including a mysterious blonde who apparently posed as a Middle Eastern man.
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Higgins received up to $1,500 to complete final examinations and other classroom work for foreign students, and $1,000 for taking required English proficiency tests, according to court documents based on an eight-month investigation.
He used personal identifying information provided by the foreign students to obtain counterfeit California driver's licenses.
Prosecutors say the conspiracy began in January 2002 and continued through mid-December of 2009. Much of the case was based on evidence uncovered through a federal search warrant served at Higgins' Laguna Niguel residence in December 2009, including a computer, dozens of fraudulent California identification documents and numerous college exam documents.
The feds say a forensic analysis of the computer and related evidence revealed more than 100 foreign students who may have participated in the fraud scheme.