Financial Crime: University of Wisconsin engineering professor admits bilking foreign students out of $1.2 million in phony tuition expenses

United States

He got an F in honesty.

An engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has pleaded guilty to convincing foreign graduate students from China to pay tuition expenses to his company and pocketing the money, even though they owed no money to study at the school.

Troy Liu, 41, admitted that between 2016 and 2020, he talked 20 students and visiting professors from China to wire his company tens of thousands of dollars to pay for their tuition.

But prosecutors said that because the graduate students and professors were working as research assistants at the school, their tuition had been waived. Liu, instead, kept the money and used it to make investments and pay off his credit-card bills. 

In all, prosecutors say Liu pocketed more than $ 1.1 million.

When confronted by investigators about why he did it, Liu allegedly told them: “That’s the difference between China and the U.S.. . . You don’t know the culture of China. That’s the reason why this business exists,” according to the guilty plea agreement.

Liu’s attorney declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Liu — who was also known as Yue Liu — set up a company in 2016 called the UW International Education Foundation. He would then approach students in China saying he could make all the arrangements for them to study at the University of Wisconsin.

In letters written on phony letterhead made to look like had come from the university, Liu often signed off as Ian Wyatt, telling investigators that “Chinese students would not trust it if a Chinese name was listed,” according to the plea agreement.  

Liu would then tell them and their families to send the tuition money to him and he would forward it to the school. Liu’s company, however, had no arrangement with the school, and he simply kept the money for himself, prosecutors said.

Some of the students would later discover from other graduate students at the school that their tuition should have been waived as they were working as research assistants. 

Liu joined the faculty at the university in 2009. He is no longer employed there, the school said.

Liu faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud.