Arrest warrants issued in birthing center cases

Updated: 2015-05-04 10:43

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Federal arrest warrants have been issued for 11 Chinese witnesses in connection with the birthing centers case in Southern California.

The charges include visa fraud, obstruction of justice and contempt of court, for leaving the United States after being ordered to remain as material witnesses.

One of the defendants was charged only with visa fraud, as she had not yet been designated a witness, according to a May 1 news release from the US Attorney's office in Santa Ana, California.

In March, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided 37 birthing centers, also called maternity hotels, to collect evidence for alleged visa and tax fraud.

Twenty-nine Chinese persons were designated by US Magistrate Judges as witnesses to testify against the business operators, who allegedly helped women come to the US on fraudulent visas, in order to give birth to children who would become US citizens.

Ten of them, however, jumped bail of $5,000 and returned to China early last month.

All of the defendants are fugitives now, and if convicted, they face maximum sentences of 25 years for false statement on a visa application and five years for obstruction of justice, according to the news release sent to reporters. "There is no maximum penalty for the charge of criminal contempt of court," it says.

The defendants were shocked when learning about the charges pressed against them, according to Jing Wang, an attorney representing three of the absconding witnesses.

"They seemed worried and said they were willing to cooperate [with the court]," Wang told China Daily. "Now they are trying to collect evidence [against the business operators] in China, which is difficult to obtain from the US. I think the judge might be interested in it," she said.

Wang said the charges were more of a deterrent. "It sends the message that those who take advantage of US policies or do not abide by laws will pay a price," she said.

According to criminal complaints, a Chinese government official was among the defendants. The 46-year-old He Dongjiang listed his occupation as "government" on his visa application and his position as "project manager and secretary-general" for China Nonferrous Metals Techno-Economic Research Institute in Beijing.

His wife, Yu Zhichan, entered the US in Hawaii but intended to stay in Southern California to give birth. The couple were designated as material witness on March 16 and each posted $5,000 in bail. On April 16, they left Los Angeles on an Air China flight to Beijing,

The birthing centers business was started 10 years ago by immigrants from Taiwan. All-inclusive package and services were eventually offered, from coaching classes on visa-application techniques to applying for US passports for the babies.

The court documents said the defendants paid up to $50,000 to obtain temporary visitor's visas by fraudulently claiming that their stay was only for several days. They usually entered the US from Hawaii or Las Vegas because the birthing-business operators had advised them that it was easier to gain entry and clear border inspections there.