A Chinese national was arrested in California on Tuesday, on charges that he created a fake Army special forces unit and convinced more than 100 other Chinese nationals to join and pay him fees to participate, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said.
Yupeng Deng, aka David Deng, a 51-year-old El Monte, California resident, allegedly called himself the “Supreme Commander” of a phony military unit called the “U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve.” According to the DA, Deng formed the unit in October 2008, and recruited other Chinese nationals by telling them that joining was a path to U.S. citizenship.
Members allegedly paid Deng initiation fees ranging from $300 to $450, along with yearly $120 renewal fees. In return, Deng provided recruits with fake U.S. Army uniforms, fake documents and fake military ID cards.
Deng also allegedly decorated his Temple City, California office to look like a U.S. military recruiting center, and ordered his recruits to report for military training and indoctrination. The DA’s office press release says the fake unit even marched in a parade in Monterey Park, and went in uniform for a tour of the USS Midway museum in San Diego.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Deng’s recruits were “typically” low-wage workers at Chinese restaurants, and while most were from the L.A. area, some lived as far away as Georgia. Deng allegedly told them that the more money they gave to his unit, the better chance they had to become U.S. citizens. When the group appeared in public, they wore green uniforms and carried various military flags. The Times reports the group apparently had a “rank system” involving striped insignias.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told the Times that investigations began three years ago, when police began to notice some people pulling out fake military identification during traffic stops. Furthermore, Eimiller told the Times that some members of the group went to real military recruitment centers in misguided attempts to pay their dues.
Deng’s group was apparently a visible presence in the L.A. area’s Chinese-American community.
California assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), the husband of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), was pictured in the Chinese-language press at an anniversary celebration for what the Times said was “believed to be one branch of the group.” He told the Times he felt bad for the victims, upon learning it was all a scam.
“If we are invited by a group to a celebration or festival, we do participate. We don’t do a background check for everybody,” Eng said of the event, which he reportedly attended with his wife. “My heart goes out to the immigrants who, because of their limited English, became victims to these scams.”
According to the DA, agents with the FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case. Deng is charged with 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal. In a separate case, Deng is charged with one count of possession of child pornography “stemming from a search warrant executed at his home,” according to the DA. If convicted in the scam case, Deng faces up to eight years, four months in state prison. He is being held on $500,000 bail, and is scheduled to be arraigned later on Wednesday in Pomona Superior Court.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com