SANTA ANA (CBSLA/AP) -- Twenty people have been charged in the largest-ever crackdown on businesses that help Chinese women travel to Southern California to give birth to babies who automatically became American citizens.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles says three people were arrested Thursday on charges including conspiracy, visa fraud and money laundering. More than a dozen others have also been charged in cases stemming from three so-called birth tourism businesses.
Dongyuan Li, 41, of Irvine; Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Jing Dong, 42, of Fontana, were charged with
conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, international money laundering and identity theft. Liu is also charged with filing three false tax returns.
The businesses allegedly billed Chinese women thousands of dollars to travel to California to deliver their babies so the children automatically obtained U.S. citizenship. Authorities say the women hid their pregnancies and lie about details of their trips.
Authorities say it's the first time the U.S. has criminally prosecuted birth tourism operators.
Liu and Dong are accused of operating USA Happy Baby Inc., a San Bernardino County-based company that charged "VIP" customers as much as $100,000, according to prosecutors.
The indictment alleges USA Happy Baby used apartments in Rancho Cucamonga to service Chinese officials, including members of the Public Security Bureau in the Beijing Municipal Government.
Liu and USA Happy Baby are also charged with filing false tax returns that failed to report more than $1.9 million received over three years. The indictment also 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 alone.
Federal agents raided the businesses in 2015.
According to the indictments, the businesses touted the benefits of giving birth in the U.S., rather than in China, with claims of the U.S. 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."
The three defendants were arrested Thursday morning and were scheduled to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.
A second indictment alleges Wen Rui Deng, 65, a former Irvine resident who is believed to now be in China, with operating Star Baby Care, a Los Angeles County-based operation that is believed to have been the largest birth tourism scheme in the U.S.
Prosecutors say Star Baby Care boasted that it was founded in 1999 as the "number one designated maternity service to the pregnant mother from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan," and had "provided services to 8,000 pregnant women (4,000 from China) since we established."
According to the indictment, Deng's scheme used 30 apartments in Rowland Heights and 10 properties in Irvine, including some houses. Deng's scheme served many customers alleged to be Chinese officials, including some associated with Chinese Central Television, China Telecom, Bank of China, and two local taxation bureaus.
"America's way of life is not for sale," said Joseph Macias, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles. "Anyone who would exploit our nation's generosity and our legal immigration system should be on notice – they may end of being the ones to pay a very steep price."
In all, there are 16 fugitive defendants whose indictments were unsealed Thursday, prosecutors said.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Wire services contributed to this report.)
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