Lawyer in birthing center case arrested

Updated: 2015-05-19 09:30

By LIA ZHU(China Daily USA)

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An immigration lawyer has been arrested and charged with attempted witness tampering after agreeing to help a Chinese woman flee the United States after she had been designated a material witness in the birthing centers case in California.

Ken Zhiyi Liang, 38, an Irvine, California-based lawyer, was arrested on May 15 after accepting $6,000 from the witness in exchange for helping her abscond to China, according to the US attorney's office in Santa Ana, California, which issued a press release on Monday.

Liang was scheduled to make his initial court appearance Monday afternoon in US District Court. The charge carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years.

Birthing centers, or maternity hotels, are businesses that charge a fee for Chinese women to travel to the US to give birth so that their children may be American citizens.

As a material witness, the woman implicated in Liang's case was subject to a court order preventing her from leaving the US. Liang had represented the witness until the court removed him as attorney of record on April 17, according to the release.

The affidavit, which was written by a special agent with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, recounts several video- and audio-recorded calls and meetings between Liang and the witness.

During the conversations, Liang outlines a plan in which he would assist the witness by having her board a commercial airliner in the US without travel documentation, so she could travel to China undetected by federal authorities, the press release said.

At one of the meetings, Liang told the witness that he could guarantee her safe return to China in exchange for a $6,000 fee for himself, and up to $3,000 to pay for help provided by three others.

The witness, however, had been cooperating with federal agents, who were monitoring the conversations between Liang and the witness.

After Liang was arrested when walking with the witness to meet the three other people, he returned the $6,000 he had accepted from the witness, according to the affidavit.

In early March, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided 37 birthing centers in Southern California to collect evidence for alleged visa fraud and tax fraud.

A total of 29 Chinese individuals were previously designated by US magistrates as witnesses to testify against the business operators who allegedly helped women come to the US on fraudulent visas. In exchange, they would not be charged with crimes.

Ten of them, however, jumped bail of $5,000 and fled to China early last month. Another one who returned to China was charged only with visa fraud because she had not yet been declared as a witness.

Among the absconding witnesses, two were represented by Liang.