Private school officials jailed on charges of defrauding immigrants

Mario Guevara of Mundo Hispanico contributed to this article. Mundo Hispanico, like the AJC, is part of Cox Media Group.

The managers of a private school in Norcross were booked into the Gwinnett County Jail on Tuesday to face charges they defrauded hundreds of immigrants seeking to avoid deportation.

Stanley and Yessica Jean of the New Life Technical Academy turned themselves into county authorities to face charges of financial identity fraud.

The couple is accused of issuing worthless GED and medical assistant degree diplomas, said Gwinnett County Police Det. Nermin Cultarevic. The students paid $3,000 on average for them, said Cultarevic, who estimated as much as $2.4 million and more than 800 victims may be involved in the case.

The students enrolled at the school to fulfill educational requirements of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Cultarevic said. That federal program temporarily suspends the threat of deportation for immigrants. The federal government has rejected the students’ applications for this program because the school is not accredited, said Cultarevic.

“They went out of their way to convince these people that they are real. They even threw these lavish graduation ceremonies,” he said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous. And these people actually called their entire families to attend these graduations.”

An attorney for the couple declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.

Cultarevic said he sympathizes with the victims because he is an immigrant himself from Bosnia. He said he has reached out to federal immigration authorities on behalf of the former students to clarify they are victims of fraud and not perpetrators.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also investigating the matter, Cultarevic said. An ICE spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

This month a group of 70 students filed suit against the school, alleging it misrepresented itself as accredited, defrauded them out of thousands of dollars and jeopardized their chances of becoming eligible for protection from deportation. The lawsuit also alleges a school employee who helped the students apply for deportation deferrals fraudulently posed as an attorney. Represented by attorney Richard Samms, the students are seeking refunds and the return of documents they submitted for their deferred action applications.