The case prompted UWM to make many changes, including increased communication to its roughly 4,400 graduate students and additional training to help employees recognize and flag potential fraud. It also underscored the financial vulnerability of graduate students enrolled at UWM, where only about 22% receive assistantships that cover the cost of their tuition. For comparison, at UW-Madison, 71% of doctoral students and 27% of master’s students hold assistantships that qualify them for tuition remission.
UWM’s 2021 investigation into Yu, released to the Journal Sentinel under the state’s public records law, offers new insight on the case. The university was alerted to potential problems when employees noticed “suspicious activity” related to one of Liu’s research grants. Yu was a co-leader of her husband’s project.
From at least 2014 through 2018, UWM records indicate, Liu sent letters to several students who had applied for admission to the civil and environmental engineering program. He used UWM letterhead and the fictitious name “Ian Wyatt” in the letters, which promised prospective students that tuition would be covered and paid work with him provided if they sent payments of more than $31,000 per year to the “Wisconsin International Education Foundation.”
The foundation’s office address matched the couple’s home address in Mequon, the report said.
Liu and Yu, who also worked in the civil and environmental engineering department, then set up fake gifts and grants as a mechanism to pay the students’ tuition and their work stipends, according to the report. Investigators linked Liu to the fictitious entities because his UWM email address was listed as the recovery email address for a limited liability company funding one of the fake gifts.