Late this afternoon following a four-day trial, a Southern California federal judge found a 38-year-old Irvine attorney guilty of three counts stemming from a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigation into a Chinese birth tourism scam.
Expressionless immigration lawyer Ken Zhiyi Liang stood, took off his suit coat, put his hands behind his back and said nothing as two jumbo-sized U.S. marshals handcuffed him for transportation to the Santa Ana Jail, where he'll be held without bail until his Dec. 14 sentencing inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
In the bench trial, federal prosecutors Joseph B. Widman and Jerry Yang convinced U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford that Liang conspired to obstruct justice by plotting to secretly aid the illegal escape of a material witness back to China.
That witness–a petite, college-age-looking woman known in court as "D.L."–entered the United States earlier this year under false pretenses of "business, tourism" after hiring a Chinese firm that arranged for her to give birth to her son in California so that he would automatically win U.S. citizenship.
Following the execution of a search warrant in March, "D.L" hired Liang and federal agents convinced her to record calls and private meetings with the attorney. Widman and Yang said evidence proved Liang took "multiple" steps to help her flee. According to the prosecutors, his motive? A lousy $6,000.
Veteran criminal defense lawyer James D. Riddet told Guilford there was reasonable doubt on each count and that Liang may have made "troubling" statements in more than three hours of recordings, but shouldn't be convicted just for "his words."
Riddet also tried an entrapment defense given that a DHS agent told "D.L." to pressure Liang into helping her escape; he claimed the government's case was "a real stretch."
In his closing argument, Yang labeled the point empty.
"The defendant was just presented with an opportunity to commit a crime and he's the one who seized upon it," he said while noting the 10-year, civil lawyer trained at Case Western Reserve School of Law in Ohio could have resisted.
Liang, who knew "D.L." had been ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas McCormick not to leave the country without permission, faces the loss of the lawyer's license as well as potentially spending 21 months in federal prison.