Visiting Stanford University Researcher Charged with VISA Fraud
Defendant Allegedly Concealed Her Membership in Chinese Military
SAN FRANCISCO – Song Chen has been charged in a criminal complaint with visa fraud in connection with a scheme to lie about her status as an active member of the People’s Republic of China’s military forces while in the United States conducting research at Stanford University, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John L. Bennett. Song made her initial federal court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim this morning to face the charge.
The allegations describing the crime appear in an affidavit supporting the complaint filed on July 17, 2020. According to the affidavit, Song, 38, a Chinese national, entered the United States on December 23, 2018, using a J-1 non-immigrant visa. Song obtained the J-1 visa, a document “for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs,” with an application she submitted in November 2018. In that application, Song stated that she had served in the Chinese military only from September 1, 2000, through June 30, 2011. She further stated that her employer was “Xi Diaoyutai Hospital” located at “No. 30 Fucheng Road, Beijing, 100142.” Song described herself in her visa application as a neurologist who was coming to the U.S. to conduct research at Stanford University related to brain disease.
The affidavit alleges that these were lies, and that Song was a member of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese military, when she entered and while she was in the United States, and that the hospital she listed on her visa as her employer was a cover for her true employer, the PLA. Specifically, the affidavit identifies four research articles that she co-authored. These articles were identified on a resume that Song submitted to Stanford. The versions of the articles available via open sources on the Internet show her as affiliated with institutions subordinate to the PLA Air Force. Specifically, the articles list Song as affiliated with the Air Force General Hospital in Beijing and the Fourth Military Medical University (FMMU), a PLA Air Force university in Xi’an. In addition, as of July 13, 2020, a Chinese health care website listed Song as an attending physician of the Department of Neurology of the PLA Air Force General Hospital, a hospital that shared an address with the “Xi Diaoyutai Hospital” listed on her visa application. The listing allegedly included a photograph of Song wearing what appears to be a military uniform. Further, an article published in 2015 identifies Song as the doctor at the PLA Air Force hospital who performed the autopsy on the former chief physician of the MRI Department at the hospital.
Finally, according to the affidavit, a search of Song’s external hard drive, recovered pursuant to a court-authorized search warrant, found that, on June 21, 2020, Song had deleted a folder titled, in Chinese, “2018 Visiting School Important Information.” The search recovered deleted documents from this folder. The affidavit alleges that one of the recovered documents was a letter from Song to the Chinese Consulate in New York, which explained that she was extending her time in the United States for another year, and wrote that her stated employer, Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, is a false front, and that, as a result, she had obtained approval for her extension from the PLA Air Force and FMMU. The letter further allegedly explained that, as these Chinese military approval documents were classified, she could not transmit them online.
Song was charged with obtaining a visa by material false statements, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a).
The complaint merely alleges that a crime has been committed, and Song, like all defendants, is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. In addition, the court may order additional terms of supervised release. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Song’s next appearance is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21, 2020, before Magistrate Judge Kim for further proceedings regarding detention.
The prosecution is being handled by the Office of the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of California’s Special Prosecutions Section and is the result of an investigation by the FBI.