Three men were convicted in Brooklyn federal court on June 20 for stalking a family in New Jersey and pressuring them to return to China on behalf of China’s communist regime.
The case is related to the regime’s Operation Fox Hunt, an effort to coerce expatriates and dissidents to return to China for trial.
Retired New York Police Department sergeant turned private investigator Michael McMahon and two Chinese citizens holding U.S. permanent residency—Zheng Congying and Zhu Yong—were accused of harassing, threatening, intimidating, and monitoring Xu Jin, a former Chinese official living in the suburbs of New Jersey, and his wife, for three years from 2016 to 2019, according to a Justice Department statement. The operation was directed and funded by Beijing.
“The conviction of these three defendants—including a retired NYPD sergeant—is yet another powerful reminder of the Chinese government’s ongoing, pervasive, and illegal behavior here in the United States,” said Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
McMahon, 55, of Mahwah, New Jersey, was convicted of acting as an illegal foreign agent and conspiracy to commit interstate stalking; Zheng, 27, of Brooklyn, was convicted of interstate stalking and conspiracy to commit interstate stalking; and Zhu Yong, aka Jason Zhu, 66, of Queens, New York, was convicted of stalking, acting as an illegal foreign agent, and conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and act as an illegal foreign agent, according to the statement.
FBI Director Christopher Wray attends a virtual news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington on Oct. 28, 2020. Eight people have been arrested as part of Operation Fox Hunt, an effort by Chinese authorities to threaten people to return to China. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
According to the court file, Zhu hired McMahon and gave his contact information to Sun Hui, a public security official in Wuhan, China. McMahon played a key role in locating Xu’s address in the United States. Zheng went to Xu’s house and left a threatening note: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend ten years in prison, your wife and children will be fine. This is the end of this matter!”
Prosecutors said the Chinese officials bypassed U.S. officials and operated illegally on U.S. soil. Ji Hu, a public security officer in Wuhan, and Lan Tu, a prosecutor in Wuhan, both flew directly to the United States in an attempt to track Xu and coerce him to return to China.
Moreover, Ji and Lan transported Xu’s frail 82-year-old father to the United States to persuade Xu to return to China for trial, according to the court file.
In addition to the three defendants, eight others have also been charged in the case. Three of them have pleaded guilty, and five others are in China.
All three defendants denied knowingly working for the Chinese regime and claimed that they were all innocent victims deceived and used by Beijing. Prosecutors countered their claims with multiple pieces of evidence.
McMahon faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the charges, Zhu faces up to 25 years in prison, and Zheng faces up to 10 years in prison, according to the prosecutor’s office. No sentencing dates have been set for the three.
Operation Fox Hunt
Beijing launched Operation Fox Hunt in July 2014 as part of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claimed that the operation aimed to track down and bring back corrupt officials who had fled abroad for trial in China.
However, human rights group Safeguard Defenders found that many Fox Hunt operations targeted Chinese dissidents. It estimated in its 2022 report that 10,000 individuals had been captured from abroad, which created fear in Chinese diaspora communities and is a serious human rights violation.
Violating Foreign Agents Registration Act
The Zhu-Zheng-McMahon case is an example of the Justice Department’s strengthening of the enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in recent years.
When FARA was first enacted in 1938, it was originally intended to prevent Nazi German propaganda from spreading in the United States.
In recent years, it has been used by the U.S. government to combat foreign influence and infiltration, especially from the CCP.
Heng He, a U.S.-based current affairs commentator, told The Epoch Times that the CCP has many overseas intelligence-gathering agencies. “This kind of intelligence-gathering by nonprofessional spies belongs to the ‘mass movement’ of the intelligence community. Some Chinese-Americans and Chinese expats in the United States are unaware that they have violated U.S. laws [by helping the CCP] and unaware of the serious consequences they may face.”
Secret Chinese Police Stations
In recent years, in addition to Operation Fox Hunt, the CCP has set up overseas covert police stations in local Chinese communities to coerce dissidents to return to China.
A balloon is held at a press conference and rally in front of the America ChangLe Association to highlight Beijing’s transnational repression, in New York City, on Feb. 25, 2023. A now-closed overseas Chinese police station is located inside the association building. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
In a report, Safeguard Defenders Director Laura Harth pointed out: “In its so-called persuasion to return operations, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] uses clandestine means to coerce individuals overseas to return to China for persecution. The methods range from going after family members back home, to direct threats and harassment of targets overseas by consular or embassy personnel; proxies, such as individuals linked to the stations; private investigators; or even through the deployment of covert agents abroad. In the most extreme cases, the methods include the luring, or entrapment, of an individual in a third country, or even kidnappings on foreign soil.”
The United States has recently arrested several CCP agents in the Chinese communities—including New York City Chinese community leaders Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, Boston Chinese community leader Liang Litang, and Los Angeles Chinese community leaders Chen Jun and Lin Feng—accusing them of violating FARA. Among them, Liang provided the CCP with a list of personal information about Chinese dissidents living in the United States; and Lu and Chen operated a secret Chinese police station in New York City to target overseas Chinese dissidents.