A federal judge on Monday set bail at $100,000 for an Irvine-based immigration attorney charged with taking a $6,000 bribe to help a witness leave the country illegally.
U.S. District Judge Douglas McCormick allowed federal prosecutors two days to ask for a review of his order, so Ken Zhiyi Liang will remain jailed for the time being.
Liang, 38, had been representing a woman ensnared in a federal crackdown on a scheme to help Chinese nationals give birth in America to establish U.S. citizenship. To avoid being prosecuted, she agreed to help investigators, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Yang.
Yang argued that the $100,000 bail for Liang was justified because had indicated in wiretapped conversations with his client that he had special knowledge of how to evade authorities when leaving the country, making him a flight risk.
Liang’s attorney, Kenneth Reed, countered that it is also possible that his client was lying to the witness, and argued that his client was unlikely to flee because it would probably mean leaving behind his wife and their two children, ages 6 and 3.
Liang interrupted his counsel to say that he has to take his children to an after-school program, the first of several interjections until the judge and Reed convinced him to stop arguing his own case.
Yang told the judge that Liang was also advising two other witnesses in the case, a husband and wife who managed to get out of the country and back to China without being caught. The prosecutor acknowledged after questioning from the judge that the couple bought tickets “on such short notice” that the authorities were unable to apprehend them.
At a hearing in federal court on April 17, Liang was removed as the other woman’s attorney over his objections, but their association did not end, according to court documents.
As Liang was allegedly helping her get transport back to China, she was secretly working for investigators who set up a sting, according to an affidavit filed by an agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The woman, whose name was not disclosed, was not allowed to leave the country because she was deemed a “material witness” in the investigation of the so-called birthing houses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Liang had arranged for a meeting with the woman in his office on May 12. Unbeknownst to him, his office was wired by federal investigators with video and audio recording devices.
Liang allegedly told the woman she needed his help; otherwise she would be “handcuffed right away at the airport,” according to the affidavit.
“Liang also expressed concern about the possibility that he could lose his bar license,” but added that another witness was able to get on a plane and he would show his client how do it “if you don’t tell anybody,” the affidavit alleges.
The attorney told the woman that for an additional $1,500 to $3,000 in “hush money,” he could get her on a plane — despite lacking travel documents, the affidavit alleges.
Liang is also accused of agreeing to help the witness’ mother and child get out of the country, as well.
Liango allegedly told the woman “to delete the communications on her cellular phone, and that he would maintain that he was not her attorney,” according to the affidavit.
“Liang also proposed that they could start using WeChat to communicate,” the document alleges. “Liang also insisted that (the witness) purchase a cheap prepaid phone to contact him via calls and not text messages.”
The woman returned to Liang’s office on Thursday to discuss more plans for the trip. At another meeting on Friday at his office, he “assured” the client that even if she got arrested, she would not be breaking the law, the affidavit alleges.
The attorney was arrested as he left the office that afternoon after he allegedly accepted the bribe.
In an interview with investigators, Liang denied trying to do anything illegal to help his client leave the country.
On April 30, federal charges were filed against 10 Chinese nationals in the case — all of whom have fled the country.
— City News Service