A Chinese national who said he was the "supreme commander" of a made-up Army unit orchestrated an elaborate scheme that attracted recruits and their money with the promise that it was a path to U.S. citizenship, authorities allege.
Yupeng Deng, who is accused of raking in hundreds of dollars from his recruits, is set to be arraigned Wednesday on more than a dozen charges.
Los Angeles County prosecutors said Deng, also known as David Deng, recruited 100 other Chinese nationals, primarily in Asian enclaves in the San Gabriel Valley, to join the "U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve unit," then gave them phony U.S. Army uniforms and military ID cards.
The 51-year-old El Monte man is accused of charging the recruits initiation fees ranging from $300 to $450, with renewal fees set at $120 a year.
The recruits were instructed to report to Deng's office in Temple City, which was decorated to look like an official military recruiting center, to undergo military training and indoctrination, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said. They marched in a parade in Monterey Park and took a tour of the U.S. Midway Museum in San Diego, all in uniform.
Deng was charged with 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal. He faces more than eight years in state prison if convicted.
Deng was arrested by agents with the FBI and U.S. Department of Defense on a felony complaint filed Monday, Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos said. He was being held on $500,000 bail.
District attorney's office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons did not know if Deng had retained an attorney.
Federal investigators began looking into Deng more than two years ago when they received reports from police who recovered counterfeit military IDs from some of Deng's recruits during traffic stops, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
When Deng sent his recruits renewal forms for their bogus military IDs, some showed up at Army facilities to pay them, she said.
Deng also has been charged with one count of possession of child pornography stemming from a search warrant executed at his home. Authorities investigating the Army fraud case said they found the pornography on his home computer.
Deng was scheduled to be arraigned in that case Monday and faces up to three years in state prison if convicted.