Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eun Young Choi Delivers Keynote Remarks at GIR Live: Sanctions & Anti-Money Laundering Meeting
Earlier today, a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, convicted three defendants on multiple counts of a superseding indictment charging them with acting and conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), without prior notification to the Attorney General.
Michael McMahon, 55, of Mahwah, New Jersey, was convicted of acting as an illegal agent of the PRC, conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking; Congying Zheng, 27, of Brooklyn, was convicted of conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking; and Zhu Yong aka Jason Zhu, 66, of Queens, New York, was convicted of conspiracy to act as an illegal agent of the PRC, acting as an illegal agent of the PRC, conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, McMahon – a retired NYPD sergeant working as a private investigator – and Zhu knowingly acted at the direction of the PRC government officials to conduct surveillance and engage in a campaign to harass, stalk and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global and extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” Zheng engaged in interstate stalking of the same victims, leaving a threatening note at their residence.
Today’s verdict follows a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen. McMahon faces up to 20 years in prison, Zhu faces up to 25 years in prison, and Zheng faces up to 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
“The defendants engaged in a campaign of harassment and coercion on behalf of the PRC to force the victim’s repatriation to China from the United States, including by threatening family members,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Department of Justice will hold accountable those who would help repressive regimes violate the fundamental freedoms of people in the United States.”
“The jury’s verdict confirms that defendants McMahon and Zhu knowingly acted at the direction of a hostile foreign state to harass, intimidate and attempt to cause the involuntary return of a resident of the New York metropolitan area to the People’s Republic of China, and that defendant Zheng harassed and intimidated that same person and his family,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “It is particularly troubling that defendant Michael McMahon, a former sergeant in the New York City Police Department, engaged in surveillance, harassment, and stalking on behalf of a foreign power for money. We will remain steadfast in exposing and undermining efforts by the Chinese government to reach across our border and perpetrate transnational repression schemes targeting victims in the United States in violation of our laws.”
“The conviction of these three defendants – including a retired NYPD sergeant – is yet another powerful reminder of the Chinese government’s ongoing, pervasive, and illegal behavior here in the United States,” said Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “At the direction of the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security, the defendants engaged in increasingly egregious efforts at repression, from stalking to outright threats and intimidation tactics undertaken at the victim’s family home. This will not be tolerated within our borders, plain and simple. If you or someone you know have been targeted in this manner, we urge you to contact the FBI – and to all those engaging in such repression tactics, stand forewarned.”
As proven at trial, between approximately 2016 and 2019, the defendants participated in an international campaign with members of the PRC government as part of “Operation Fox Hunt” to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe #1 and his family, in order to force John Doe #1 and his wife, Jane Doe #1, to return to the PRC. In or around 2015, the PRC government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices” for John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1, alleging that both persons were wanted by the PRC government on corruption-related charges.
Zhu hired McMahon who obtained detailed information about John Doe #1, his wife, and his daughter from a law enforcement database and other government databases, then reported back to Zhu and others, including a PRC police officer, what he had learned. McMahon also conducted surveillance outside the New Jersey home of John Doe #1’s sister-in-law and provided Zhu and PRC officials with detailed reports of what he had observed. The operation was supervised and directed by several PRC officials, including co-conspirators Hu Ji, a PRC police officer with the Wuhan Public Security Bureau and Tu Lan, a PRC prosecutor with the Wuhan Procuratorate.
In April 2017, Tu Lan and Hu Ji transported John Doe #1’s then-82-year-old father from the PRC to the New Jersey home of John Doe #1’s sister-in-law to attempt to convince John Doe #1 to return to the PRC. The testimony established that John Doe #1’s father was brought by a PRC doctor and charged co-conspirator, Li Minjun, and that while John Doe #1’s father was in the United States, his daughter was threatened with jailing in the PRC. A co-conspirator conducted surveillance of the home during the visit, wearing night-vision goggles provided by the PRC doctor and the PRC prosecutor. McMahon tailed John Doe #1 from the meeting with his elderly father, back to his home, and provided John Doe #1’s address – which was previously unknown – to the PRC operatives.
In October 2016 and April 2017, McMahon emailed himself a China Daily News article titled “Interpol Launches Global Dragnet for 100 Chinese Fugitives,” which stated, “Amid the nation’s intensifying antigraft campaign, arrest warrants were issued by Interpol China for former State employees and others suspected of a wide range of corrupt practices. China Daily was authorized by the Chinese justice authorities to publish the information below.” The article provided a list of photographs and identifying information about Operation Fox Hunt targets by the PRC government, including those of John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1.
On Sept. 4, 2018, Zheng drove to the New Jersey residence of John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 and pounded on the front door. He and a co-conspirator attempted to force open the door to the residence, then left a note that stated “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”
Previously, three other defendants pleaded guilty in connection with their roles in the PRC-directed harassment and intimidation campaign.
Zebin pleaded guilty in March 2022 to interstate stalking conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing. Hongru Jin pleaded guilty in June 2021 to conspiring to act as an illegal agent of the PRC and interstate stalking conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing. Tu Lan, Hu Ji and Li Minjun are fugitives.
The FBI Newark Field Office investigated the case with valuable assistance provided by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Craig R. Heeren, Meredith A. Arfa and Irisa Chen for the Eastern District of New York and Trial Attorney Christine A. Bonomo of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are in charge of the prosecution, with valuable assistance provided by Paralegal Specialist Mary Clare McMahon.