A foreign national has to first become a US citizen before they can join the US military. Picture; Wu Xin, originally from Guilin in China's Guanxi province, pledges the Oath of Allegiance to become a US navy soldier on USS Ronald Reagan in 2008. (File Photo/CNS)
A Chinese national living in Temple city, California, was arrested Tuesday (Apr. 12) for allegedly creating a false Army special forces unit, providing recruits with false documents and uniforms and even marching with them in a parade, authorities said.
Yupeng Deng, 51, also known as David Deng, named himself the "supreme commander" of the "US Army/ Military Special Forces Reserve," said prosecutors who charged that Deng's group was actually a huge immigration scam that preyed on Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley desperate to become citizens.
Charged with 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal, he faces a maximum of more than 11 years in state prison if convicted.
Two Asian-American politicians, Mike Eng and his wife, Judy Chu, appeared in pictures with one branch of the fake army group, authorities said.
While prosecutors said they found evidence of more than 100 recruits, some in the Chinese American community said there appeared to be several branches of the "special forces reserve" with up to 800 members.
Each recruit was charged US$300 to US$450 to join plus an annual US$120 renewal fee. In exchange for the fees Deng told his group members that he would assist them in becoming US citizens.
Mostly originating from the Los Angeles area, the recruits were provided with phoney US Army uniforms, fake documents and fraudulent military identification cards, authorities said.
Having actually visited real Army recruiting centers, some of the recruits were convinced that they had been officially enlisted in the US military, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
When the recruits appeared in public, they wore green uniforms and carried various military flags, prosecutors said, adding they were also seen doing drills with mock weapons.
According to the Los Angeles Times, some local officials had noticed there was always something off about the group. "Their uniforms didn't fit them. They didn't shine their boots," said Joaquin Lim, a city councilman from Walnut. "They even had typos and misspellings on their ID cards. They were a disgrace to the Army."
California Assembly member Mike Eng was spotted pictured in what was believed to be the sixth anniversary celebration for one branch of the group. He appeared with his wife, US Representative Judy Chu and other dignitaries, prosecutors said.
"If we are invited by a group to a celebration or festival, we do participate. We don't do a background check on everybody," Eng said. "My heart goes out to the immigrants who, because of their limited English, became victims to these scams."
Mike Eng 伍國慶
Judy Chu 趙美心