On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the indictment of eight (8) persons (five of which were arrested) for conspiring to act as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC.)
One of those arrested was a licensed New Jersey (NJ) private investigator (PI) and reportedly a retired NYPD police officer.
According to the DOJ press release, in addition to the above charge, “Six defendants also face related charges of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.“
Over a three (3) year period, “The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt.“
According to the federal complaint, Operation Fox Hunt is a program in which the PRC targets ethnic Chinese–living in foreign countries–that they allege have committed crimes under PRC law and seek to repatriate them to the PRC to face charges.
WHY IS THIS AGAINST THE LAW?
“U.S. Law prohibits individuals from acting in the United States as agents of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General,” as noted in the complaint.
It goes without saying that if one country wants another country to arrest an individual for alleged crimes committed in their country, the requesting country must go through official channels. The requesting country cannot send their agents into a sovereign nation and do whatever they want.
As Assistant Attorney General John Demers emphasized in Wednesday’s press conference, “…it was an illegal Chinese law enforcement operation.”
WHO WERE THE TARGETS OF THE CHINESE AGENTS?
The primary target was a former Chinese city official accused of corruption in China and had been legally residing in the U.S. since 2010 with his wife and daughter.
WHAT TACTICS OF COERCION, EXTORTION AND INTIMIDATION WERE EMPLOYED?
- Life-threatening messages taped to the victim’s door at home in New Jersey, such as, “…return to China promptly or commit suicide.”
- Or…“If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be safe and all right.“
- Unsolicited packages were sent to the victim with threatening video messages
- The PRC delivered the elderly father of the victim from China to the U.S.—against the father’s will—to coerce the victim to return to China
- Stalked the victim’s adult daughter in California
- Imprisoned the victim’s sister in China
HOW WAS THE INDICTED N.J. PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED?
The PRC officials allegedly hired the accused N.J. private investigator to determine the location of the Chinese target/victim that they wanted to return to China. Essentially, the PI used proprietary database sources (restricted for use by licensed PIs for legal purposes only) to determine the location of the victim, as well as the PI’s personal surveillance of the victims for the Chinese agents.
*CALIFORNIA PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR CONTACTED BY CHINESE AGENTS
The complaint also alleges that an attempt was made by the Chinese agents to retain a licensed California private investigator to provide information about the victim’s adult daughter, as well as to conduct surveillance.
The California PI became a confidential informant for the FBI in which they recorded his meetings with the Chinese agents and their requests of him.
For example, according to the complaint: “…the PI purported to investigate and surveil [the victim’s daughter] for the Chinese agent. In reality, the PI’s conduct was itself supervised and surveilled by federal law enforcement, who provided material related to the [victim’s daughter] that the PI could in turn give back to the Chinese agent.”
COMPLAINT DETAILS RE: NEW JERSEY PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR
- Signed retainer agreement with Chinese agents and initially paid and deposited $5,000.
- Updated Chinese agents with surveillance results
- PI was photographed in several meetings with Chinese agents in New Jersey
- PI received a wire transfer of $5,945. from a PRC bank
- Provided international travel information for victim’s wife
- Provided date of birth, social security number and bank account information to Chinese agents for the victim’s wife
- A Chinese agent notified PI of the arrival of the victim’s father, and the PI accepted the task to follow the father to his son’s (victim’s) address and maintain surveillance
- On the date of the father’s arrival, the PI sent approximately 13 text messages to the Chinese agent, and the Chinese agent sent about 13 messages to the PI
- A police report indicated that a vehicle registered to the PI was parked in a position to observe the victim’s wife’s relatives at their home at the same time the victim’s father was in that home
- PI emailed himself a China-based link which indicated “Interpol Launches Global Dragnet for 100 Chinese Fugitives” while surveilling the victim
ANALYSIS OF THE NEW JERSEY PI’s ALLEGED CRIMES
Is it conceivable that the New Jersey PI was duped into believing he was providing a service for legal purposes?
Is it possible that the PI took the following factors into account before accepting the assignment, such as:
- the fact that the victim was wanted in China for the crimes of embezzlement, abuse of power, and acceptance of bribes
- that the Chinese government officially notified Interpol of the victim’s wanted-fugitive status and a “Red Notice” was issued
” A ‘Red Notice’ is a request to law enforcement worldwide that advises all member states of Interpol if an individual is wanted by the requesting country, and contains information about the person’s identity and their alleged criminal conduct,” as noted in the complaint.
The New Jersey PI may have also been swayed by the belief that one of the Chinese agents was purported to be a police officer in Wuhan.
Is it possible that all of the above served to reinforce the PI’s (misguided) belief that he was assisting a legal law enforcement operation, which PIs often do?
Except, of course, in this case, the Chinese agents had no law enforcement authority in the United States, and, therefore, acted “illegally.”
WHAT IS A PI’S LEGAL AND ETHICAL OBLIGATION?
PIs have a legal and ethical obligation to vet the client to ensure that their services are retained for a lawful purpose.
It is very unfortunate that a retired police officer did not have the wherewithal to recognize what he was being called into. However, it is hard to believe that the former officer genuinely understood the illegal gravity of what he was involved in–on behalf of the Chinese State–and just disregarded it.
On the other hand, it is gratifying to learn how the California PI appears to have recognized something was not right with what he was asked to do by the Chinese agents, and this information was brought to the FBI’s attention.
As a result, according to the complaint, “…the PI was a confidential human source for the FBI…and received financial compensation and a certificate of appreciation for his efforts on behalf of law enforcement.”
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