A Culpeper man was one of eight people charged nationwide Wednesday with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit as part of a federal operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The federal agency set up a fake university in the Detroit area to nab the suspects alleged to have recruited undocumented immigrants who wanted to use student visas as legal cover for their time in the America. Six of the defendants were arrested in metro Detroit. Two others were arrested in Lake Mary, Florida and in Culpeper, according to an ICE news release.

Suresh Kandala, 31, of Culpeper, was among those indicted.

From February 2017 through January 2019, the defendants, a group of foreign citizens, conspired with each other and others to facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the U.S., according to the news release. This was reportedly done by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by special agents as part of an undercover operation.

As part of the scheme, the suspects assisted foreign citizen “students” in fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. The illegal documents were based on false claims, false statements, and fraud since the purported foreign students had no intention of attending school, nor attended a single class, and were not bona fide students, according to ICE.

All participants in the scheme allegedly knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes. The defendants intended to help shield and hide the “students” from U.S. immigration authorities for money and collectively profited in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, according to ICE.

“We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused,” stated U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider.

Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis said the nationwide network “grossly exploited U.S. immigration laws” in allegedly aiding hundreds of foreign nationals stay in the country by falsely portraying them as students.

If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ronald Waterstreet, Timothy McDonald and Brandon Helms with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit.

The other suspects were identified as Barath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary, Florida; Phanideep Karnati, 35, of Louisville, Ky.; Prem Rampeesa, 26, of Charlotte, N.C.; Santosh Sama, 28, of Fremont, Calif.; Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pa.; Aswanth Nune, 26, of Atlanta; and Naveen Prathipati, 26, of Dallas.

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