A federal judge Monday denied a motion for judgment of acquittal and a new trial for a California attorney convicted in September of accepting money to help a material witness in a federal grand jury investigation into birth tourism flee to China.
U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford of the Central District of California ruled that Ken Zhiyi Liang was not entrapped when the material witness, a woman working with the government known in court papers as “D.L," approached Liang to help her leave the country, according to court documents.
Guilford also rejected defense attorney James D. Riddet’s claims that federal prosecutors did not sufficiently show Liang “took a substantial step” toward committing the crimes, and that the government failed to meet the burden required to demonstrate Liang obstructed and conspired to obstruct justice, court papers show.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Riddet was not immediately available for comment.
Liang, who remains in federal custody, is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 8. Although Liang faces up to 60 years in prison for one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and two counts of obstructing justice, Riddet told the World Journal, a Chinese-language newspaper, that his client would likely serve at most one year or 18 months.
The case against Liang, 38, began in early March when authorities raided maternity hotels in Southern California, where wealthy expectant mothers from China paid upwards of $50,000 to stay for several months before and after giving birth. D.L., who resided at one of the birthing houses, became a material witness in the government's investigation, and along with three other material witnesses hired Liang as their attorney, according to court documents.
D.L., who admitted she came to the U.S. to have her child, agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and to speak and meet with Liang, whom the court removed as attorney for the material witnesses after suspecting he was involved in helping two of them flee, according to court documents.
D.L. wore an audio and video recorder, and her conversations with Liang, almost exclusively in Mandarin, were transmitted to agents and translated in real time by a court-certified interpreter, court documents said.
In early May, during their second phone conversation, Liang asked D.L. to make him an offer for his services, to which D.L replied $6,000, court papers said. Liang accepted.
When the two met on May 12, Liang said he had "made arrangements" with people to aid in helping D.L. leave the country, court documents said. Liang explained he would use a portion of the money D.L. paid to protect himself and also offered D.L. advice, such as leaving on a weekend when there was less of a law enforcement presence, court documents said.
Liang was taken into custody by federal agents on May 15, the day D.L. handed him the $6,000, according to court papers.
Monday’s hearing lasted less than 10 minutes, according to the World Journal. Handcuffed and wearing a prisoner’s uniform, Liang entered the courtroom around 2pm, exchanging nods with his wife who attended the hearing, the paper reported.
When it was over, Liang’s wife, who was dressed in all black, left the court and had a brief exchange with Riddet, the World Journal reported. She hurried off soon after, refusing to answer questions from the press, according to the paper.