Fugitive in Chinese Birth Tourism Case Avoids Sentencing Today

The only issue federal prosecutor Charles E. Pell and defense lawyer Karren Kenney agreed on at today’s scheduled sentencing hearing for a fugitive tied to lucrative communist Chinese birth tourism in Southern California is that the punishment shouldn’t be issued now.

After that agreement, Kenney—appointed to represent Chao Chen—prompted several fights including the defense counsel’s demand with incoherent reasoning that a reporter be booted from the non-sealed hearing inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse. 

A startled Pell objected, saying, “There’s not any justification for [banning the press].”

Kenney fired back by arguing Chen signed a sealed guilty plea about his role in a high-fee, immigration fraud scheme that lured pregnant Chinese women posing as mere tourists to Orange County for plots to give birth to children who’d automatically become U.S. citizens.

But the prosecutor accurately noted that U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna unsealed those documents in June.

Kenney, who is based in Newport Beach, stood at the podium apparently trying to concoct other excuses to empty the audience section of the courtroom, but failed before Selna ruled on the point.

“I’m not going to seal this hearing,” the judge stated. 

The defense lawyer then issued a “blanket objection” to Chen being sentenced in absentia as a violation of his constitutional due process rights.

Selna countered, saying, “He has waived his right to be present.”

Kenney blamed the U.S. Attorney’s Office for causing her client to violate the terms of his guilty plea and flee undetected back to unknown parts of China because prosecutors allegedly had acted slowly on “substantial” information Chen provided the government in its investigation after he was caught.

[See an earlier article for related details.]

Pell believes guilty fugitives should not be able to indefinitely delay their sentencing by going into hiding.

But Kenney told Selna the prosecutor’s call for sentencing is a “strategic move” with unstated nefarious motives.

“There’s something else going on,” she asserted without meaningful explanation. “He has his due process rights, a right to be represented and to be here.”

Pell wanted to postpone Chen’s sentencing so he and probation officials can write new punishment-related records that will now include the fugitive’s contempt of court charge.

But Kenney told the judge she would refuse to reply to the government’s future reports.

Selna was unamused. He noted he wasn’t about to let an ‘ineffective counsel’ argument taint the case. He also stared stone-faced several seconds at the defense lawyer.

“You have a duty to represent your client,” he then said. “I’m going to order you to put in a [responsive] brief.”

Kenney still didn’t budge, saying she will consult an appellate lawyer to consider her options. 

Selna set a Jan. 7 sentencing hearing and he told Kenney, who has been in email contact with Chen, that he’s ordering him to be present. 

In June 2016, Chen—who was born in 1984—signed a guilty plea deal for committing immigration fraud, marriage fraud and failure to file an honest federal income tax return.

Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a wing of the Department of Homeland Security, nabbed Chen in a massive investigation into individuals who try to exploit U.S. travel and immigration services.

Kenney today reiterated her past argument that he fled because he was “scared” of prison consequences and fears of retribution from a “powerful” but unnamed Chinese individual tied to the multi-million dollar annual birth tourism industry that remains an ongoing concern for U.S. officials.

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