A Chinese man who gave himself the title of "Supreme Commander" and scammed other Chinese nationals into joining his fraudulent U.S. Military unity to gain citizenship, was arrested Tuesday.
El Monte resident, Yupeng (David) Deng, 51, recruited more than 100 Chinese nationals by providing them with false documents and uniforms for a fee, according to the District Attorney. He called his group the "U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve" and it even marched in military garb in the Monterey Park Chinese New Year's festivities and at the USS Midway museum in San Diego. Assemblyman Mike Eng, whose district covers the West San Gabriel Valley, was among several local elected officials pictured with a branch of the group, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"My heart goes out to the immigrants who, because of their limited English, became victims to these scams," Eng, an immigration lawyer by profession, told the Times.
Citizenship scams, including immigrants preying on other immigrants, are not uncommon. Connie Choi, an attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, told the Whitier Daily News they are even becoming more prevalent.
"This is not symptomatic of just the Chinese-American community, but all immigrant communities," Choi said, adding that scammers have even posed as APALC.*
The Chinese-language World Journal reported that there are about three to four similar organizations in the Chinese American community, the largest of which have over 500 members. Among those members, only 10 percent have genuine military background.
In this incident, authorities were alerted three years ago after local police began noticing that some people pulled over during traffic stops produced fake military identifications, an FBI spokeswoman told the LA Times. It may have included an Alhambra taxi driver, who a Chinese-language newspaper reported was arrested for producing such documents.
Deng allegedly charged each recruit initiation fees ranging from $300 to $450 with renewal fees set at $120 each year. Recruits allegedly could increase their rank in the "MSFR" by making cash donations.
A member of the “U.S. Army Special Forces Reserve Unit,” who refused to reveal his name, told the Chinese-language World Journal newspaper that Yupeng Deng immigrated from Beijing years ago and has been doing some construction and inner decoration work in the past few years. According to the member, Deng attended a similar organization five years ago and started his own unit about two years ago.
Special Agents with the FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service jointly investigated the case and presented it to the D.A.’s office. Deng is charged with 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal. If convicted as charged, he faces up to eight years, four months in state prison. In a separate case, Deng was charged on April 6 with one count of possession of child pornography stemming from a search warrant executed at his home. Authorities investigating the document case allegedly discovered child pornography on his home computer. If convicted in that case, he faces up to three additional years in state prison.
*An earlier version of this story included an error. It said that scammers has posed as members of APALC and offered fake immigration workshops in Rosemead. An individual who was not a member of the advocacy organization had sent immigrants to an APALC-citizenship workshop, but it's not clear whether he or she was wrongly charging individuals to attend it.