Federal authorities were busy Thursday, arresting three alleged birth tourism operators who catered to Chinese people and unsealing indictments that link 19 people to schemes in Irvine, Los Angeles County and Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County that made millions of dollars by helping clients give birth in the United States so those newborns are automatically American citizens.
The defendants allegedly were part of three “maternity” or “birthing” houses that were dismantled in March 2015 after federal agents executed 35 search warrants. Indictments unsealed Thursday “contain the first-ever federal criminal charges brought against operators and customers of birth tourism businesses,” according to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles.
Alleged operators are accused of having committed widespread immigration fraud, international money laundering and fraudulent leasing of apartments and houses used in birth tourism schemes, according to the indictments that are based on investigations by HSI, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Irvine Police and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s departments.
“America’s way of life is not for sale,” says Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles, in the statement. “HSI will aggressively target those who would make a mockery of our laws and our values to benefit and enrich themselves. No one needs to be reminded about the national security and public safety implications of visa fraud and the crimes associated with it. Anyone who would exploit our nation’s generosity and our legal immigration system should be on notice: They may end up being the ones to pay a very steep price.”
Customers were coached on how to pass the U.S. Consulate interview in China by falsely stating that they were going to stay in the U.S. for only two weeks, and pregnant women were advised to wear loose clothing to conceal their pregnancies from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry, according to the indictments, which add that clients were directed to fly from China to Hawaii instead of directly to Los Angeles because it was easier to get by CBP on the Islands.
Indictments further allege that many who gave birth here skipped on payments to hospitals and other medical facilities, which wound up referring those debts to collectors.
“These cases allege a wide array of criminal schemes that sought to defeat our immigration laws–laws that welcome foreign visitors so long as they are truthful about their intentions when entering the country,” says Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District California, in the HSI release. “Statements by the operators of these birthing houses show contempt for the United States, while they were luring clients with the power and prestige of U.S. citizenship for their children. Some of the wealthy clients of these businesses also showed blatant contempt for the U.S. by ignoring court orders directing them to stay in the country to assist with the investigation and by skipping out on their unpaid hospital bills.”
Dongyuan Li, 41, of Irvine; Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Jing Dong, 42, of Fontana, were arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, international money laundering and identity theft. Liu is also accused of filing three false tax returns.
The trio is alleged in the indictments with running operations that advertised the benefits of giving birth in the U.S. as opposed to China with claims of the States having “the most attractive nationality;” “better air” and less pollution; “priority for jobs in U.S. government;” superior educational resources, including “free education from junior high school to public high school;” a more stable political situation; and the potential to “receive your senior supplement benefits when you are living overseas.”
Li allegedly used 20 apartments in Irvine for her You Win USA business that advertised of having a “100-person team” in China and the U.S. that had served more than 500 Chinese birth tourism customers. The indictment claims You Win USA charged each customer $40,000 to $80,000 and received $3 million in international wire transfers from China in just two years.
The indictment details communications in which Li allegedly referred to U.S. immigration authorities as “the foreigners” and also discussed whether to refund a down payment because, once a customer found out “the baby is a girl, her husband arranged [an] abortion for her.”
Among 16 fugitive defendants named in the unsealed indictments is Li’s 42-year-old husband, Qiang Yan, who was indicted in December on three counts of visa fraud for filing an application for an “O” visa premised upon being an “alien of extraordinary ability.” He’d done so, the feds claim, by falsely stating that he had co-authored two books–completed with fake copies attached.
The Li indictment alleges that when Yan was interviewed during a search of her $2.1 million residence in Irvine, he told federal agents that his birth tourism business investment was “chump change” because he had more than $10 million in his bank accounts in China.
The You Win USA investigation resulted in the seizure and/or forfeiture of three properties with millions of dollars in equity, including Li’s Irvine residence, as well as six vehicles, including four Mercedes Benzes, more than $1 million from bank accounts and many gold bars and coins, according to HSI. The probe also led to criminal charges against attorney Ken Zhuyin Liang, who was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for helping material witnesses flee to China in violation of court orders.
Among the others charged in an indictment filed this week is 65-year-old Wen Rui Deng, a former Irvine resident who is believed to now be in China. Deng is accused of having operated Star Baby Care, which was based in Los Angeles County and is believed to have been the largest birth tourism scheme in America. Star Baby Care is linked by the feds to 10 properties in Irvine, including houses, and 30 apartments in Rowland Heights.
The company served many Chinese officials–including some associated with Chinese Central Television, China Telecom, Bank of China and two local taxation bureaus–and its website boasted that Star Baby Care was founded in 1999 as the “number one designated maternity service to the pregnant mother from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan,” having “provided services to 8,000 pregnant women (4,000 from China) since we established,” alleges the indictment .
Liu and Dong are accused in the indictment of operating USA Happy Baby Inc., a San Bernardino County-based company that charged “VIP” customers as much as $100,000 and used apartments in Irvine and Rancho Cucamonga. USA Happy Baby is also alleged to have served Chinese officials associated with the likes of Henan People’s Radio Station in Zhengzhou, the Public Security Bureau in the Beijing Municipal Government, and the Harbin Medical University in Heilongjiang Province.
USA Happy Baby and Liu are further charged with filing false tax returns that failed to report more than $1.9 million received over three years. The indictment alleges that Liu and Dong used 14 different bank accounts to receive more than $3.4 million in international wire transfers from China during 2013 and 2014.
Chao Chen, a 34-year-old partner in the You Win USA scheme, was indicted in December on one count of contempt of court for fleeing the U.S. while he was pending sentencing. Chen had previously pleaded guilty to visa fraud, marriage fraud and tax fraud. His 31-year-old wife, Ji Zhu, was indicted in March 2018 on one count of marriage fraud for allegedly marrying a U.S. citizen to obtain U.S. citizenship even though she was already married to Chen.
Zhu and Chen fled to China, where they remain fugitives from justice, according to the feds. Other fugitive defendants named in the unsealed indictments alleging they fled to China in violation of federal court orders include:
- Xiao Yan Liu, 39, who was indicted in November on two counts of visa fraud and one count of lying to federal law enforcement. According to her visa application, she was the “chief physician” at the Henan Shangqiu Power Supply Company Staff Hospital.
- Jun Xiao and LongJing Yi, both 30 and subjects of a February 2018 indictment on charges of conspiracy, visa fraud, obstruction of justice and criminal contempt. They allegedly lied on their visa applications that they would be staying in the U.S. for 15 days. They are further accused of having paid only $4,600 of the $32,291 in hospital charges related to the birth of their baby, and after Xiao fled to China, he is claimed to have denigrated a federal court order requiring him to stay in the U.S. by saying in a communication, “Anyway, I’m already home. U.S. can’t do anything to me.”
- Dongjiang He, 46, and his 40-year-old wife Zhichan Yu, who were indicted in February 2018. On his visa application, He listed his occupation as “Government” and his position as “Project Manager and Secretary General” for the China Nonferrous Metals Techno Economic Research Institute, which is located in the Haidian District in Beijing. The couple is accused of visa fraud, obstruction of justice and contempt of court.
- Jia Luo, 30, who was also indicted in February 2018 and allegedly lied on her visa application and to CPB officers in Hawaii, where she was asked her if she was planning on having a baby in the United States.
- Renlong Chen, 34, and his 33-year-old wife Wei Wang, who were also indicted in February 2018 and allegedly lied on their visa applications by stating they would be visiting the U.S. for only eight days when they actually made arrangements to stay at a maternity house in Rancho Cucamonga for three months so that Wang could give birth in the United States.
- Jie He, 29, who was also indicted in February 2018 and allegedly made false statements on her visa application, including that she planned to stay in the U.S. for only 20 days when she actually entered into a contract to pay approximately $50,000 to obtain a visa and stay in the States for several months to give birth. Court documents allege that Jie He told HSI special agents that she flew into Las Vegas, rather than Los Angeles, because the Chinese maternity operator had advised her that it was easier to enter through Sin City.
- Eryun Zhang and her husband, Liang Ni, both 25, and her 50-year-old mother Ji Xu, who were also indicted in February 2018. Ni admitted that, during an interview conducted at the U.S. Consulate in China, he falsely stated that the purpose of their trip was for their honeymoon rather than the true reason, which was for Zhang to give birth in the United States, according to court documents.
The cases from this week’s indictment are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles E. Pell of the Santa Ana Branch Office.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.