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Two Miami women sentenced in language school visa fraud case

The owner and an employee of a language school have been sentenced in Miami federal court after pleading guilty to charges related to visa fraud.

School owner Lydia Menocal, 58, of Miami, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and two years supervised release and fined $5,000. She also will forfeit about $600,000 in money and property to the United States government.

School employee Ofelia Macia, 75, also of Miami, was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

The sentences imposed Friday closed a chapter in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s largest student-visa fraud investigation, which netted 116 arrests of student-visa violators, according to an ICE statement.

Immigration authorities said the school vouched for the foreign nationals as legitimate students and the U.S. government issued them visas — but in reality the students did not take the required number of class hours.

After the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. government tightened visa monitoring to make sure foreign students show up in school and take required courses instead of using visas to work or immigrate illegally to the United States.

“This case serves a warning to other academic institutions that you will be investigated and prosecuted if you engage in this type of criminal activity,” said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of the ICE Homeland Security Investigations Office in Miami.

“One of the lessons learned from the Sept. 11 attacks is that the U.S. government must be vigilant and aggressive in conducting investigations into organizations and persons who seek to exploit and corrupt America’s legal immigration system for personal gain.”

Menocal was director and sole shareholder of Florida Language Institute, a language school in a strip mall at 947 SW 87th Ave. in West Miami-Dade.

Macia was the school’s office manager.

In November 2007, ICE agents opened a criminal investigation, dubbed Operation Class Dismissed, after receiving information that the school was fraudulently sponsoring foreign students without requiring them to attend at least 18 hours of classes per week, as mandated by federal regulations.

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