An El Monte man was sentenced to three years in state prison Wednesday in connection with a scheme to recruit hundreds of Chinese nationals and charge them for joining a phony Army Special Forces unit that he led as “supreme commander,” Los Angeles County prosecutors said.
Under the deal with prosecutors, Chinese national Yupeng “David” Deng pleaded guilty to three felony charges, including manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeiting a government seal, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. As part of his sentence, he will be required to pay $200,000 in restitution to the victims.
Separately, Deng pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography stemming from a search warrant executed at his home.
Deng originally was charged with 13 counts of theft and faced more than eight years behind bars. Ten of those counts were dismissed. His attorney could not be reached immediately for comment.
Authorities alleged that in 2008, Deng concocted a faux military unit that he called the U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve unit and persuaded other Chinese nationals, primarily in the San Gabriel Valley, to join.
Deng told them that joining the unit “was a path to U.S. citizenship,” but authorities said Deng’s “U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve” was actually an immigration scam that preyed on Chinese immigrants desperate to become citizens.
As the self-titled supreme commander, Deng allegedly charged recruits initiation fees as high as $450 and a $125 annual renewal fee. Recruits allegedly could promote themselves in rank by making cash donations to the defendant, prosecutors said.
In addition, prosecutors alleged that Deng provided his recruits with fake U.S. Army uniforms as well as phony documents and military ID cards.
The recruits also were instructed to report to the defendant’s office in Temple City, made up to look like an official U.S. military recruiting center, to undergo military training and indoctrination, prosecutors said.
The troop marched in local Chinese New Year parades and even received a special military tour in uniform at the aircraft carrier Midway museum in San Diego. Chinese-language newspapers ran photos of the troops with prominent community leaders.