LA Flight School Owner Arrested on Visa Fraud Charges

Officials say alleged scheme was likely financially motivated.

Federal immigration officials on Wednesday arrested a Southern California woman accused of helping foreign nationals fraudulently apply for student visas to attend her Los Angeles-area flight school.

Karena Chuang, 28, of Lake Elsinore, California, was charged with allegedly orchestrating a scheme that allowed citizens from Egypt, Sri Lanka and Taiwan to enter the U.S. for flight training at schools authorized to accept foreign students. She is accused of then steering the students to her own flight training school, Blue Diamond Aviation at Brackett Field Airport east of Los Angeles. The school isn’t permitted to accept foreign students.

In some cases, say authorities, Chuang allegedly posed as a relative of the foreign students when seeking documentation from government-approved flight schools. That documentation was later used to apply for visas. She allegedly coached students not to tell U.S. officials during interviews that they planned to attend her flight school.

Chuang was released Wednesday on a $40,000 bond but must wear an electronic monitoring device. A preliminary hearing has been set for Dec. 21. If convicted, Chuang faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.

Officials say Chuang's students had no suspected ties to terrorism. Rather, they say, the alleged visa scheme was most likely financially motivated. According to the Blue Diamond’s website, the school offers Private through Commercial Multi training using a Cessna 152, 172 and Piper Apache.

This isn’t the first time flight schools have been accused of allowing foreigners to train without proper documentation. Last year, a flight school in El Cajon, California, pleaded guilty to creating false visa documents for foreign students and a Massachusetts flight school was found to have trained illegal immigrants from Brazil.

Sensitivities around the visa application process for foreign flight training students have risen since the 9/11 attacks. Several of the hijackers had trained at U.S. flight schools, leading to changes in security and visa requirements for foreign students.