Micropower Career Institute officials arrested, federal authorities say
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Federal agents raided the Mineola and Hauppauge offices of a private vocational school Thursday and arrested the president and four administrators in a scheme to collect federal grant money by inflating attendance records of foreign students, authorities said.
According to a federal complaint from the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, agents raided the offices of Micropower Career Institute at 85 Willis Ave. in Mineola, and 120 Commerce Drive in Hauppauge as well as offices in Elmhurst, Queens; Manhattan and Newark.
Federal agents from the State Department, the Department of Education's Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations took part in the raid.
The complaint said school officials falsified attendance records to make it appear that foreign students were attending classes regularly, allowing the school to meet requirements and continue receiving Pell Grants and other federal aid for tuition. If attendance falls below a certain level, schools are required to return a portion of the grant money.
The school has collected more than $13 million in Pell Grants and other federal aid since 2008, the complaint said.
The complaint did not estimate how much grant money should have been refunded to the federal government after students lost their eligibility due to poor attendance.
Four of the Long Island residents charged with visa fraud and wire fraud were identified in the complaint as school president, Suresh Hiranandaney, 60, of Dix Hills, school vice president Lalit Chabria, 54, of Old Bethpage; his wife, vice president and director of the Mineola campus, Anita Chabria, 47; and Seema Shah, 41, of Hauppauge, a school employee who helped recruit foreign students.
Suresh Hiranandaney, his son, Samir Hiranandaney, 27, of Dix Hills, the director of the Hauppauge campus; and Lalit and Anita Chabria, were charged with student financial aid fraud conspiracy.
An employee at the Mineola campus who did not want to be identified said the school has been in operation since 1993 and offers 10-month programs for careers in the medical, dental and computer networking fields. It also offers English as a second language classes, the employee said.
The school's website says it helps students apply for visas.
The fraud allowed "numerous foreign citizens to remain in the United States under F-1 student visas based on the fraudulent pretense that these aliens were participating in full courses of study," the complaint said.
Officials at the school's Manhattan campus did not return calls Thursday.
A school employee cooperating with investigators provided documents showing that 88 percent of students at the Manhattan campus had missed so many classes that they no longer qualified to attend the school, the complaint said.