SOUTH EL MONTE, Calif. — A week after a fake U.S. Army recruiter was arrested for scamming Chinese immigrants into paying to join a bogus unit, real Army officials said they have been reaching out to Los Angeles-area communities to prevent others from being duped.
Authorities said they arrested Yupeng Deng last week after he persuaded about 100 immigrants into paying him as much as $400 each for the privilege of signing up. Deng, who also goes by the name David, was arrested on charges of obtaining money, labor or property under false pretenses, manufacturing and selling phony identification documents and using a counterfeit seal. He is being held on $500,000 bail and is set to be arraigned May 2.
At a U.S. Army Recruiting Office next to a Chinese shop advertising a sale on dried abalone in a South El Monte strip mall, Capt. Patrick W. Caukin said during a Monday press conference that officials have begun working closely with local high schools. They have also been posting the contact information for recruiting offices in the San Gabriel Valley as well as photos of individual recruiters on Facebook and other social media.
"No legitimate Army recruiter will ever ask an applicant for money in order to serve in the Army," he said. "No one in the Army will ever ask you to pay for a rank or promotion."
Prosecutors believe Deng recruited Chinese immigrants by saying it would improve their chances of obtaining green cards and U.S. citizenship. The case was investigated by the FBI and Department of Defense and highlights the vulnerability of immigrants seeking American citizenship.
Sgt. Di Sang, a Chinese-born recruiter in the San Gabriel Valley, said he gained his citizenship while he was serving in Afghanistan after joining in 2005. To join, applicants need to be U.S. citizens or green card holders, between 17 and 35 years old, proficient in English and have a high school diploma.
Once they have qualified to join, the Army can help recruits fill out the citizenship form, and most will get their citizenship once they graduate basic training, San said. He has recruited 16 Asian immigrants in the last six months.
Deng's attorney, Daniel Deng, no relation, has said his client was just trying to help members of the Chinese community show their appreciation for their new country. The lawyer said his client joined a military support groups six years ago after he won asylum for facing religious persecution as a Christian and wanted to share the experience with other immigrants.
Authorities and other Chinese community members, however, don't think Yupeng Deng's motives were so pure. Members paid to enlist in his military group, renew their membership and made additional donations to ascend in rank.
Yupeng Deng had an office in Temple City decorated as a real recruiting station – complete with a rug featuring an Army seal. After paying their application fee, recruits were trained using mock weapons and were issued bogus ID cards they were told could help them avoid traffic tickets and earn airfare discounts.
Janet Chin, board president of the Garvey Unified School District, who served in the Army, said that when she joined, nobody asked her for cash – they offered her money.
"The reaction is shock and obvious distaste for members of the community that would do this," she said.