from the SGV Tribune
Posted: 04/13/2011 08:43:45 PM PDT
Yupeng Deng, also known as David Deng, listens to his mandarin interpreter, Billy Lee, during his arraignment at Pomona Superior Court in Pomona on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Deng faces charges for recruiting Chinese nationals for a phony Army special forces unit by promising recruits a fast-track to U.S. citizenship. Deng faces 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal. (SGVN/Staff photo by Watchara Phomicinda)
POMONA - An El Monte man suspected of creating a phony military unit in an office in Temple City, who had recruits fitted with real army uniforms and charged them fees for service and ranks, was simply misunderstood, a defense attorney said on Wednesday.
Chinese national Yupeng Deng, also known as David Deng, is suspected of recruiting more than 100 Chinese nationals from as far away as Atlanta into a phony Army unit he led as the group's "supreme commander" by offering U.S. citizenship in exchange for service, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office officials.
"I think the facts are going to bear out he wasn't counterfeiting," defense attorney Darren Cornforth said. "I am of the position that the state has one opinion ... and I think there is some misunderstanding."
Officials with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office disagree.
"He preyed upon the aspirations of a very specific, targeted group," Deputy District Attorney Michael Yglecias said.
Prosecutors said they don't believe the unit was dangerous and was based around the immigration scam.
Deng was scheduled to be arraigned at Pomona Superior Court on Wednesday, but the hearing was postponed until May 2. Deng is being held on $500,000 bail after the District Attorney's Office requested a higher bail because they consider him a flight risk. Without the change, Deng's bail would have been $160,000, officials said.
Cornforth did not provide details on his defense or how his client was allegedly misunderstood.
Deng, 51, was arrested Tuesday by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies assisting the investigation, which is being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Services.
Officials first began investigating when his recruits were caught using fake military IDs trying to get out of traffic tickets with police.
He faces 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal.
If convicted, Deng faces up to eight years and four months in prison.
Deng allegedly charged recruits between $300 and $450, along with renewal fees of $120 each year, to be part of his fake unit, which he dubbed the U.S. Military Special Forces Reserve. Recruits could move up in rank if they paid higher fees, officials said. And he gave himself the title of "supreme commander" of the fake military unit, officials said.
unit began in October 2008 and was run out of Deng's office on Las Tunas Drive in Temple City, which was made to look like a legitimate Army recruitment office, complete with a fake official seal on its floor, officials said. Most of the recruits were from Los Angeles County, but there were some from as far away as San Jose and Atlanta, officials said.
"There is speculation there was more than 100 (recruits), but investigators told me they were comfortable with saying 100," Yglecias said.
The unit was supplied with real Army uniforms that could have been purchased at a surplus store or another outlet.
Deng trained the troops using mock weapons - BB guns - during the training, Yglecias said. And he taught the unit military conduct and thinking, he said.
"They were told they were indeed part of the U.S. military," Yglecias said.
Recruits also were told they could get a free pass on tickets from police and deals on airfare due to their status - promises that led to the investigation, Yglecias said.
The unit was also apparently part of a parade in Monterey Park and posed for pictures with local elected officials, prosecutors said.
Assemblyman Mike Eng was told he was in a picture with Deng, though he has not seen the photo himself. He said he has no recollection of Deng or his unit, but he was critical of the Deng's alleged actions.
"It is the worst moral implication," Eng said. "It plays on people's desire to be patriotic, to be loyal. It takes all that good cache ... and it bundles it up and prostitutes it into a cash transaction. This is a defilement of the hopes and dreams of immigrants."
Eng defended officials who may have been duped by Deng for photo opportunities.
"It is always disconcerting when people take advantage of the openness of our office," he said.
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