PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Fifteen Chinese nationals — almost all in their 20s — have been indicted by a Pittsburgh grand jury for using fake Chinese passports and hired test-takers to take SATs and other standardized exams in order to gain admission to American universities.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton outlined the first-of-its-kind conspiracy to KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

“A test-taker using a phony passport misrepresents themselves as someone else and they take the test, and when the test score is obtained, the student can gain admission to an American institution of higher education,” said Hickton. “And then, because of that under the visa rules, they can get an F-1 visa that allows them to stay here.”

While most of the indicted Chinese were in Pittsburgh, Hickton would not confirm that the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University were the principal victims of the conspiracy, saying only, “Great educational institutions in this region and around the country have been victimized.”

Hickton said universities from coast to coast could be affected.

“We’ve uncovered this scheme here, but this is the beginning of a larger investigation,” he said.

Hickton could not confirm or deny if the government of China was part of the fraud.

“I can’t say completely right now,” said the U.S. Attorney.

“What I can say is that passports which appear to be issued by the Peoples Republic of China are fake. How that happened will be determined by the balance of the investigation,” he added.

One defendant has been arrested, and three are in China.

“We expect that we will arrest the others shortly,” Hickton said.

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