Arrest of Oklahoman in student visa ring based on error

Thursday, May 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

An Arab man's arrest in an alleged scheme to obtain fraudulent student visas was based on a factual inaccuracy, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Scott Woodward, first assistant U.S. attorney for northern Oklahoma, said the FBI arrested the former student Tuesday morning in Tulsa but released him after discovering the error in a court affidavit.

The former student, who was not identified, was arrested alongside 57 people nationally _ including another student in Oklahoma _ for allegedly hiring a surrogate to take their Test of English as a Foreign Language.

Many colleges and universities require the test as proof foreign students are complying with the terms of their visas. A passing score would allow the student to stay in the United States.

Arrests came in 12 other states and the District of Columbia as part of the New Jersey-based investigation, which was designed to stop potential domestic terrorists before they can strike.

Woodward would provide no details of the inaccuracy in the former Oklahoma student's affidavit, but its discovery ended the case against him.

``Officials in New Jersey had to analyze whether sufficient evidence still existed to pursue those charges,'' he said. ``Their determination was that there was not.

``They elected to dismiss.''

Woodward said federal prosecutors in New Jersey could file more charges against the former student if additional evidence warrants.

A telephone call seeking comment from the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's office was not immediately returned.

An Oklahoma State University student was also arrested Tuesday in the test-taking scheme, which allegedly involved exams for 130 foreign students and operated between 1999 and last month.

Omar Al-Kaabi, of the United Arab Emirates, faces one count of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud. Al-Kaabi, 20, was detained, and will be taken by the U.S. Marshals office to New Jersey.

Al-Kaabi's criminal complaint and the warrants used to arrest him remain sealed. The U.S. District Court in Tulsa has no records of the former student's arrest because he never made an initial appearance.

In Virginia, the investigation turned up a student flight manual, a hand-drawn diagram of a plane striking one of the World Trade Center towers and a date book with a lone entry: Sept. 11, court documents show.

The materials seized from a Virginia suspect appear to have been generated after Sept. 11, a source familiar with the case said. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suspect does not appear to have had advance knowledge of the attacks.

A person involved in the investigation, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the court papers listing the results from the Virginia searches were mistakenly filed in open court, instead of under seal.