Daniel Higgins doesn't look like a Middle Eastern student, but officials say he routinely portrayed himself as one for almost a decade, getting paid up to $1,500 per student to attend their classes and take exams so they could keep their visas current and remain in the U.S.
Officials say that records seized from Higgins' home in Laguna Niguel, Calif., show that more than 100 students from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates hired him to do their classwork and take their tests.
Higgins, 46, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud when he appeared in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana on Monday.
Six others -- Mohammed Alnuaim, Abdullah Alhogail, Khalid Almenaibi, Saeed Alfalahi, Ibrahim Almansoori and Mohamed Almehairi -- were also arrested Monday and appeared with Higgins before a U.S. magistrate. All were charged with immigration fraud.
"This is unique and not something we have seen in the past," said Jorge Guzman, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "We don't know the motive of these men coming from these countries, why they were here or why they were not attending classes."
ICE agents said some of the foreign students involved in the fraud will be charged with crimes, and others will simply be deported.
Sources said they do not know if any of the men are considered national security threats, but several are "persons of interest."
At one point, officials said, Higgins got so busy he hired other American students to pose as foreigners and take their tests. They allegedly obtained fake California drivers' licenses using their own photos, but using the Arab students' names.
The Middle Eastern students were all male. The students Higgins is accused of hiring to take their tests were all white Americans -- including, in one case, a 21-year-old blond coed.
The students attended more than a dozen colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area, including California State Long Beach and Los Angeles, and junior colleges in Santa Monica and Orange County.
Higgins allegedly charged foreign students:
-- $1,400 to take the math and English placement exams.
-- $1,200 to $1,500 to take final exams and other classwork.
-- $1,000 to take the TOEFL, or English as a foreign language, entrance exam.
After the 9/11 terror attacks, American colleges were supposed to tighten their monitoring of foreign students and verify their identities. Guzman says this case proves some campuses have a long way to go.
"It tells them they have a problem, where they are going to have to do something about verifying the identification off individuals coming in to take entrance exams and classes at those institutions," he said.
According to Guzman, passing the tests allowed the students to obtain their visas and stay enrolled, which in turn allowed them to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
More than 220,000 foreign students study each year in American colleges and universities, including about 15,500 from the Middle East.