Chinese Government Employee Convicted Of Participating In Conspiracy To Defraud The United States And Fraudulently Obtain U.S. Visas
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that ZHONGSAN LIU was convicted yesterday of participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing the lawful functions of the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security and with committing visa fraud. LIU was convicted after a one-week trial before the Honorable Valerie E. Caproni.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams stated: “Liu Zhongsan sought to exploit the J-1 research scholar program—which is intended to allow foreign nationals to conduct research at approved U.S. institutions—for the improper purpose of enabling his conspirators to work for the Chinese Government in the United States, against the rules of the research scholar program. Liu’s conviction reflects this Office’s commitment to holding to account those who seek to defraud this country’s visa system and the agencies responsible for its administration.”
As reflected in the Indictment, public filings, and the evidence presented at trial:
LIU participated in a scheme to fraudulently procure J-1 research scholar visas for employees of the government of the of the People’s Republic of China (the “PRC Government”) in order to enable them to unlawfully work for the PRC Government in the United States and to conceal that unlawful work from the United States and its agencies.
LIU operated an office of the China Association for the International Exchange of Personnel (“CAIEP”), an agency of the PRC Government, in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Among other activities, CAIEP engages in talent-recruitment for the benefit of the PRC, including recruiting U.S. scientists, academics, engineers, and other experts to work in China.
From 2017 up to and including September 2019, Liu worked with others to fraudulently procure J-1 research scholar visas for PRC Government employees in order to enable those employees to unlawfully work for CAIEP in the United States and to conceal that unlawful work from the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. The J-1 research scholar program permits foreign nationals to come to the United States for the primary purpose of conducting research at a corporate research facility, museum, library, university, or other research institution. LIU worked with others to obtain a J-1 research scholar visa for a prospective CAIEP employee, Sun Li, based on the false representation that Sun Li would conduct research at a U.S. university, and to conceal the unlawful work of another CAIEP employee, Liang Xiao, who was present in the United States on a J-1 visa sponsored by a U.S. university.
In or about April 2018, Liang Xiao applied for and received a J-1 visa to conduct research at that U.S. university. Although Liang represented to the U.S. Government that she was entering the United States for the primary purpose of conducting research at the university, Liang’s actual purpose in the United States consisted of working for CAIEP. LIU helped Liang take measures to enhance her false appearance as a research scholar by, among other things, directing Liang to report to the university upon her arrival in the United States; ensuring that Liang obtained a local driver’s license; and disguising Liang’s CAIEP salary as a subsidy for a research scholar’s living expenses.
In addition, LIU sought to enable Sun Li to obtain a J-1 research scholar visa under false pretenses. In particular, LIU reached out to contacts at multiple U.S. universities in order to arrange for a university to invite Sun Li to come to the United States as a J-1 research scholar. In truth and in fact, however, LIU intended that Sun Li’s primary purpose in the United States would consist of working for CAIEP.
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LIU, 59, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit visa fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. Sentencing before Judge Caproni is scheduled for July 11, 2022.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI, and thanked the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division for their assistance.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Gillian Grossman and Elinor Tarlow are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorneys Adam Barry and Scott Claffee of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.