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Yue Zou acknowledged having her boyfriend contact a China-based test-taking service.
After that happened, Zou, of Blacksburg, Virginia, supplied her passport information through an online network known as QQ Chat, which enabled people in China to create in her name phony passports that were shipped to her in the United States.
On the passports were the photos of two other Chinese women, who took tests in the Pittsburgh area while pretending to be her.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jimmy Kitchen told the judge that Zou forwarded results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, to Virginia Tech in November 2013 and results of a Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, taken by another Chinese impostor in March 2014.
Zou, from Hegang, a city in the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, paid an unspecified sum for the TOEFL and $2,000 for the SAT, Kitchen told a judge in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.
Zou, 21, faces up to five years in prison when she's sentenced in February. She could also be deported, though that will be handled by federal immigration officials in a separate proceeding.
Federal authorities haven't explained how they learned of the scheme.
Zou's attorney, Lyle Dresbold, told the judge that Zou will remain confined to her Blacksburg apartment with an electronic monitoring bracelet until she's sentenced. He told the judge she's still enrolled at Virginia Tech.
University spokesman Mark Owczarski said he could not comment on her status. But he said students found to have submitted work that is not their own to gain admission would face a range of possible sanctions, including expulsion, under the university's honor code.
Zou's TOEFL test was taken by Yunlin Sun, 24, of Berlin, Somerset County. She pleaded guilty in August and faces sentencing in December. Prosecutors say Ning Wei, from Taiyuan, in the Chinese province of Shanxi, took Zou's SAT. She hasn't been arrested, and prosecutors say they believe she returned to China.
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