‘Birthing cen­ter’ lawyer to serve fed­eral sen­tence

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By LIA ZHU in San Fran­cisco li­azhu@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

A Chi­nese-Amer­i­can lawyer has been sen­tenced to 21 months in fed­eral prison for ob­struct­ing jus­tice re­lated to a scheme in which he agreed to help a wit­ness in the “birthing cen­ters” in­ves­ti­ga­tion flee the United States.

Ken Zhiyi Liang, 39, an Irvine, Cal­i­for­nia-based im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­ney, was sen­tenced on Mon­day af­ter­noon by US District Court Judge An­drew J. Guild­ford. He was con­victed in Septem­ber of con­spir­ing to ob­struct jus­tice, ob­struct­ing jus­tice, and tam­per­ing with a wit­ness.

Liang was ar­rested on May 15 last year af­ter ac­cept­ing $6,000 from a Chi­nese woman who had been des­ig­nated a ma­te­rial wit­ness in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into “ma­ter­nity ho­tels” op­er­at­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in ex­change for help­ing her ab­scond to China.

The ho­tels are busi­nesses that charge a fee for Chi­nese women to travel to the US to give birth so that their chil­dren be­come Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. In March, the fed­eral agents raided more than 30 such cen­ters to col­lect ev­i­dence of al­leged visa and tax fraud.

Twenty-nine Chi­nese per­sons were des­ig­nated as ma­te­rial wit­nesses to tes­tify against the busi­ness oper­a­tors. Fed­eral ar­rest war­rants were is­sued for 10 of them in May af­ter they had jumped bail and re­turned to China in April.

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, 2015.

Un­be­knownst to Liang at the time, the woman was co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral agents with from US Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment’s Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions (HSI), who were mon­i­tor­ing con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Liang and the wit­ness.

Dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tions, Liang out­lined a plan in which he would as­sist the wit­ness by hav­ing her board a com­mer­cial air­liner in the United States with­out travel doc­u­men­ta­tion, so she could travel to China un­de­tected by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties.

Liang was caught on hours of video and au­dio record­ings sell­ing and mar­ket­ing his abil­i­ties to the woman to help smug­gle her out of the US, in vi­o­la­tion of court or­ders, in ex­change for a $6,000 fee for him­self and a $1,500 to $3,000 fee for three co-con­spir­a­tors who would as­sist him, pros­e­cu­tors wrote in a sen­tenc­ing brief filed with the court.

He re­turned the $6,000 he had ac­cepted af­ter he was ar­rested while walk­ing with the wit­ness to meet the three co-con­spir­a­tors in a coffee shop in Corona, Cal­i­for­nia.

“As an at­tor­ney and of­fi­cer of the court, Mr Liang owed a height­ened duty to re­spect and fol­low court or­ders,” said US At­tor­ney Eileen M. Decker. “In­stead Mr Liang chose to vi­o­late those court or­ders, and in­duced oth­ers to vi­o­late court or­ders, for his own per­sonal profit. To­day's sen­tence is a re­minder of the im­por­tance of court or­ders and pro­tect­ing the in­tegrity of fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Liang pro­vided as­sis­tance to two other ma­te­rial wit­nesses who fled to China and to an­other ma­te­rial wit­ness who was in­ter­cepted at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port on April 15.

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