The FINANCIAL — According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Zhongsan Liu, 59, of Fort Lee, 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 (PRC) 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 Li’s primary purpose in the United States would consist of working for CAIEP.
Liu 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. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement.
The FBI investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gillian Grossman and Elinor Tarlow for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case