PITTSBURGH ― A Chinese woman pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to have two other women take college admissions examinations in her place that helped her get accepted to Virginia Tech.
Yue Zou, 21, of Blacksburg, Virginia, acknowledged in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to having her boyfriend contact a China-based test-taking service.
After that happened, Zou supplied her passport information through an online network known as “qq chat,” which enabled people in China to create phony passports in Zou’s name that were shipped to her in the United States.
On the passports were the photos of two other Chinese women, who took tests in the Pittsburgh area while pretending to be Zou. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jimmy Kitchen told the judge that Zou forwarded results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, to Virginia Tech in November 2013 as well as results of a Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, taken by another Chinese impostor in March 2014.
Zou, from Hegang, a city in the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, paid an unspecified sum for the TOEFL and $2,000 for the SAT, Kitchen told the judge.
Zou faces up to five years in prison when she’s sentenced Feb. 4. She could also be deported, though that will be handled by federal immigration officials in a separate proceeding.
Federal authorities haven’t explained how they learned of the scheme.
Zou’s attorney, Lyle Dresbold, told the judge that Zou will remain confined to her Blacksburg apartment with an electronic monitoring bracelet until she’s sentenced. He told the judge she’s still enrolled at Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech officials didn’t comment in June, when Zou and several other defendants were arraigned. A spokesman for the university didn’t return a call and email seeking comment Thursday on Zou’s status.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton and other federal authorities said in announcing the indictments that the test-taking scheme robbed students who honestly met the requirements for college and university admission of positions at those schools. Hickton has also said that students like Zou who obtained student visas did so fraudulently if they used impostors to help them gain admission to U.S. schools.
Hickton was out of the office Thursday.
Zou’s TOEFL test was taken by Yunlin Sun, 24, of Berlin, Somerset County. She pleaded guilty in August and faces sentencing Dec. 11. Prosecutors say Ning Wei, from Taiyuan in the Chinese province of Shanxi, took Zou’s SAT. She hasn’t yet been arrested, and prosecutors say they believe she returned to China.