A federal grand jury in Brooklyn returned a superseding indictment yesterday charging five defendants, including one current federal law enforcement officer and one retired federal law enforcement officer, with various crimes pertaining to a transnational repression scheme orchestrated on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Defendants Fan “Frank” Liu, 62, of Jericho, New York; Matthew Ziburis, 49, of Oyster Bay, New York; and Qiang “Jason” Sun, 40, of the PRC were charged in March 2022 with allegedly perpetrating a transnational repression scheme that targeted U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disfavored by the PRC Government. Among other items, these defendants allegedly plotted to destroy the artwork of a PRC national residing in Los Angeles, who was critical of the PRC government and planted surveillance equipment in the artist’s workplace and car to spy on him from the PRC. Liu and Ziburis were arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint in March 2022, while Sun remains at large.
The superseding indictment adds two new defendants, Craig Miller and Derrick Taylor, to the scheme. Miller is a 15-year employee of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), currently assigned as a deportation officer to DHS’s Emergency Relief Operations in Minneapolis, and Taylor is a retired DHS law enforcement agent who presently works as a private investigator in Irvine, California. Miller and Taylor are charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence after they were approached by FBI agents and asked about their procurement and dissemination of sensitive and confidential information from a restricted federal law enforcement database regarding U.S.-based dissidents from the PRC. Both Miller and Taylor were arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint in June 2022.
“We will defend the rights of people in the United States to engage in free speech and political expression, including views the PRC government wants to silence,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen. “As charged, these individuals aided agents of a foreign government in seeking to suppress dissenting voices who have taken refuge here. The defendants include two sworn law enforcement officers who chose to forsake their oaths and violate the law. This indictment is the next step in holding all of these defendants responsible for their crimes.”
“As alleged, this case involves a multifaceted campaign to silence, harass, discredit and spy on U.S. residents for exercising their freedom of speech – aided by a current federal law enforcement officer and a private investigator who provided confidential information about U.S. residents from a restricted law enforcement database, and when confronted about their improper conduct, lied and destroyed evidence,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “This office will always work closely with our law enforcement partners to root out corrupt officials in all levels of government and will prosecute those who act on behalf of a hostile foreign state to target the free speech of U.S. residents on American soil.”
“This case exposes attempts by the government of the PRC to suppress dissenting voices within the United States. Actions taken by the defendants – two of which are current or former federal law enforcement officers – demonstrate how the PRC seeks to stalk, intimidate, and silence those who oppose it,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The FBI battles transnational repression because it is an evil in its own right, and an assault on the freedoms of an open society. Our community’s safety and our nation’s security were jeopardized by this criminal behavior, and we remain dedicated to combating transnational repression and bringing to justice those that perpetrate it.”
Liu and Ziburis are charged with conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government. Liu, Ziburis and Sun are charged with conspiring to commit interstate harassment and criminal use of a means of identification. Liu and Sun are charged with conspiring to bribe a federal official in connection with their scheme to obtain the tax returns of a pro-democracy activist residing in the United States. Both Miller and Taylor are charged with obstruction of justice, while Taylor is charged with making a false statement to the FBI.
If convicted, Liu faces up to 30 years’ imprisonment; Ziburis, Sun and Taylor face up to 25 years’ imprisonment; and Miller faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The defendants will be arraigned at a later date.
As alleged, Liu and Ziburis operated under Sun’s direction and control to discredit pro-democracy PRC dissidents residing in the United States, including those in New York City, California and Indiana. with efforts to disseminate negative information about, and to spy on, stalk, harass and surveil U.S.-based dissidents.
According to the indictment, one of Liu’s co-conspirators (“Co-conspirator”) retained Taylor to obtain personal identification information regarding multiple PRC dissidents residing in the United States, including passport information and photos, and flight and immigration records, which Taylor allegedly tasked to two DHS law enforcement officers, including Miller. As alleged, Miller and the other DHS agent obtained the information from the restricted database and improperly provided it to Taylor, who shared it with the Co-conspirator. Liu, Ziburis and Sun used this information to target and harass these U.S. residents while acting on behalf of the PRC government.
According to court documents, Miller and Taylor both lied about their past conduct when confronted by the FBI. According to the indictment, Miller deleted text messages with Taylor from his phone while being interviewed by the FBI, and Taylor instructed a co-conspirator to withhold evidence from the U.S. government. When interviewed by the FBI, Taylor falsely claimed that he obtained the records in question from a friend who was using the “Black Dark Web” — likely a reference to the dark web.
According to the indictment, the Co-conspirator called Taylor and claimed he received a subpoena from the Department of Justice seeking the Co-conspirator’s communications with Taylor, and Taylor directed the Co-conspirator to withhold such information from the U.S. government.
According to court documents, when interviewed by the FBI, Miller initially claimed to be in sporadic contact with Taylor and said the two did not discuss work matters. After agents admonished Miller to be honest, Miller admitted that Taylor provided him names to run through law enforcement databases. Miller granted consent to the FBI to search his phone, and ultimately admitted that he ran the queries for Taylor and sent the results to Taylor via text message, and that Taylor had provided a gift card in return. Miller then admitted that he deleted the text chain with Taylor during the interview earlier that day and that he fabricated all earlier statements about the text chain, including whether the chain included the names requested by Taylor.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexander A. Solomon and Emily J. Dean for the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher D. Grigg for the Central District of California and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Svendsen for the District of Minnesota. U.S. Attorney Peace also thanked the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Professional Responsibility, for its assistance in the investigation.
The FBI has created a website for victims to report efforts by foreign governments to stalk, intimidate, or assault people in the United States. If you believe that you are or have been a victim of transnational repression, please visit https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/counterintelligence/transnational-repression.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.