SANTA ANA, Calif. – An Irvine-based immigration attorney has been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for obstructing justice in relation to a scheme in which he agreed to help a Chinese national flee from the United States after the woman had been designated as a “material witness” in a criminal investigation into “birthing houses” operating in Southern California.
Ken Zhiyi Liang, 39, of Irvine, was sentenced Monday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guildford. Liang was found guilty in September of conspiring to obstruct justice, obstructing justice, and tampering with a witness, who is referred to in court papers as “D.L.”
Liang “was caught on hours of video and audio recordings selling and marketing his abilities to D.L. to help smuggle her out of the United States in violation of court orders, in exchange for a $6,000 fee to himself and a $1,500 to $3,000 fee for three co-conspirators who would assist him,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing brief filed with the court.
The Chinese national had been designated as a material witness in an ongoing federal investigation being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. As a material witness, D.L. was subject to a court order preventing her from leaving the U.S. without authorization from the government or court. Liang had represented the witness in the matter for about a month until the court removed him as the attorney of record, over his objections, in April 2015.
“As an attorney and officer of the court, Mr. Liang owed a heightened duty to respect and follow court orders,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Instead Mr. Liang chose to violate those court orders, and induced others to violate court orders, for his own personal profit. Today’s sentence is a reminder of the importance of court orders and protecting the integrity of federal investigations.”
The federal investigation, which became known when authorities executed dozens of search warrants nearly a year ago, focuses on so-called birthing houses that “provided services to Chinese nationals, who travelled into the United States from China, for the purpose of giving birth to children so that the children could obtain United States citizenship,” according to court documents.
Unbeknownst to Liang at the time, D.L. was cooperating with HSI special agents who were monitoring conversations between Liang and the witness. Liang was arrested May 15 by federal authorities as he was walking with the witness to his car, supposedly to begin a trip to a coffee shop in Corona, where he was going to introduce D.L. to the co-conspirators. After his arrest, Liang led agents back to his office, where he returned the $6,000 he had accepted from the witness. Liang has remained in custody since his arrest last spring.
According to court documents, Liang provided assistance to two other material witnesses who fled to China, and to another material witness who was intercepted at Los Angeles International Airport April 15.