A woman has admitted to running a “birth tourism” business in which she helped pregnant Chinese women come to the U.S. to give birth, the U.S. district attorney’s office announced this week.
Dongyuan Li, a 41-year-old Chinese woman living in Irvine, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and one count of visa fraud.
She is the first of 19 people to plead guilty after being indicted in similar schemes, prosecutors said.
Li admitted to operating her business You Win USA Vacation Services Corp. from 2013 to March 2015. Li’s husband and her business partner, Chao Chen, are also facing charges for their role in operating the business.
According to a federal indictment, Li accumulated large amounts of wealth, purchasing a $2.1-million house and a $118,000 Mercedes-Benz with cash and receiving $3 million in wire transfers from China in two years. She advertised her business online, boasting of having helped 500 customers successfully give birth in the U.S.
Her promotions lured women by promising that the U.S. was the “most attractive nationality,” with years of free education, less pollution, retirement benefits and an easier way for an entire family to immigrate with an American-born child, according to the court documents.
The price tag, according to prosecutors, was between $40,000 and $80,000.
Li admitted to helping her customers file falsified tourist applications that stated the women would stay for about two weeks in locations such as Hawaii, L.A. or New York, when they actually intended to stay three months in one of Li’s 20 Irvine apartments, according to her plea agreement.
Li would tell women to first fly to Hawaii and then to Los Angeles, believing it would be easier to clear U.S. Customs that way. Li additionally told women they would improve their chances of slipping past immigration officials if they said on their tourist visa applications that they intended to stay at the Trump International Hotel in Honolulu, according to court documents.
As part of her plea agreement, Li will forfeit more than $850,000, a Murrieta house worth more than a half-million dollars and several Mercedes-Benz cars.
If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The other 18 defendants are either awaiting trial or are fugitives, believed to be in China, said U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Ciaran McEvoy.