Bail denied for UC Davis Chinese researcher as judge finds defendant a flight risk
By SAM STANTON | The Sacramento Bee | Published: August 1, 2020
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — A federal magistrate judge denied a request Friday to release on bail a former Chinese researcher at the University of California, Davis who has been accused of lying about her ties to China’s military and Communist Party to gain access to the United States.
“I just don’t see sufficient conditions to overcome flight risk,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes said in ordering continued detention of Juan Tang. “She would have every reason to leave.”
Tang, 37, has been held without bail at the Sacramento County Main Jail since July 23, after she was arrested by FBI agents when she emerged from hiding in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco and went to visit a doctor, authorities say.
Tang had been considered a fugitive who sought refuge for a month inside the consulate after being questioned June 20 at her Davis apartment by FBI agents.
The Justice Department says Tang is one of several researchers from China who received visas to conduct research at some of the most prestigious universities in the United States. But the department says Tang and the others lied about their backgrounds, falsely claiming to have no ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army-Air Force, or PLAAF or the Communist Party.
Tang’s federal defender, Alexandra Negin, has argued that she is not a flight risk and that the FBI had seized her passport in June, which prompted her to seek help from consular officials.
Negin said Tang was willing to wear a monitoring device and be placed on home arrest pending trial.
But prosecutors have painted a much darker view of her activities, saying she lied on her visa application, misled FBI agents who questioned her and tried unsuccessfully to delete some of the information stored on her electronic devices.
“Tang is an active duty member of the Chinese military’s scientific community, who lied to gain entry into the United States, attempted to destroy evidence, and lied extensively to the FBI when interviewed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Heiko Coppola wrote in advance of Friday afternoon’s hearing. “It also appears that Tang’s present case is not an isolated instance of Chinese military members unlawfully gaining admission to the United States through visa fraud.
“Because she is a serious flight risk, the court should order Tang’s continued detention during the pendency of this criminal case.”
“All of her ties are in China,” Barnes said. “It’s not unusual for an individual to seek assistance from a consulate.
“I don’t know how usual it is to live in a consulate for a month.”
The Justice Department says it has conducted interviews in more than 25 American cities of Chinese visa holders suspected of having ties to China’s military, and the government said that while it welcomes international researchers China’s activities show the “extreme lengths to which the Chinese government has gone to infiltrate and exploit America’s benevolence.”
Tang’s federal defender has argued that the fact FBI agents unearthed photographs of Tang in military uniforms does not necessarily mean she was a member of the PLAAF.
“Ms. Tang apparently attended a prestigious medical school that is run by the military in China,” Negin wrote. “That does not mean that she was ‘in the military.’
“The civilian students are required to wear uniforms but those uniforms do not indicate that the student is in the military. The civilian students have no rank in the military and are free upon graduation to go wherever they wish to work.”
But prosecutors said there is a wealth of evidence that Tang, who applied for her visa in October and arrived at San Francisco International Airport Dec. 27, lied about her ties to the military and her background. They also said Tang, who was at UC Davis to conduct cancer research, falsely denied having “any special chemical or biological experience.”
Court documents say the FBI discovered evidence on the internet about her ties to China’s military, including an online news story from April 2019 about a forum in China that included a photo of her wearing a PLAAF uniform with an insignia of the Civilian Cadre.
“Tang was listed as one of four experts invited to the forum and was further introduced in the article, wearing what appeared to be a military uniform, and listing her employment as an associate researcher at Air Force Military Medical University, Molecular Medicine Translation Center,” Coppola wrote in opposing her release on bail. “Members of the PLAAF Civilian Cadre are considered active duty military members.
“Additional open source internet searches revealed other articles about Tang and listed her affiliation with Air Force Military Medical University/Fourth Military Medical University and China People’s Liberation Air Force Military Medical University Molecular Medicine Translation Center.”
The FBI seized Tang’s electronic devices during their June questioning of her, and discovered she had attempted to delete all information on them, court papers say. But because she had not written over the old files the FBI was able to retrieve additional evidence, court filings say.
“During a later review of the electronic media evidence seized from Tang, agents discovered a myriad of different photographs of Tang wearing a military uniform,” Coppola wrote. “Agents also found a video depicting a presentation conducted by Tang in which she is wearing what appears to be the PLAAF military uniform found in their open source search and she begins the presentation with a salute.
“The video presentation was recorded in the weeks before Tang entered the United States on the J-1 visa.”