‘Birth tourism’ arrests
Federal authorities charged 20 people last week with running businesses that helped pregnant Chinese women give birth in the U.S. so their children would gain citizenship. Prosecutors said Dongyuan Li, 41, made millions of dollars running You Win USA Vacation Services, charging women between $40,000 and $100,000 to stay in an upscale California apartment and give birth. The women were coached on how to apply for bogus tourist visas—sometimes with the Trump International Hotel in Honolulu as their destination. They would then fly to Los Angeles for the latter part of their pregnancies. Two owners of USA Happy Baby were also arrested and, along with Li, pleaded not guilty. More than a dozen others facing charges are believed to have returned to China. Among them is Wen Rui Deng, 65, whose Star Baby Care in Los Angeles is accused of being the largest “birth tourism” operation in the U.S.
A Mexican truck driver transporting a shipment of cucumbers through a port of entry last week was arrested after customs officials found 254 pounds of fentanyl in secret floor compartments. The largest-ever seizure of the opioid was enough for more than 100 million lethal doses. Officials also found 395 pounds of methamphetamine in the truck driven by Juan Antonio Torres-Barraza, 26, who said he was unaware of the drugs on board. He said the trailer wasn’t his, and that he was promised about $37 to transport the produce to a C.H. Rivas warehouse across the border. The company said it is typically notified when a truck headed to its warehouse is busted for drugs, so that it can retrieve the cargo, but that wasn’t necessary this time: Officers destroyed the cucumbers, fearing they’d been tainted by the fentanyl, which is about 100 times stronger than morphine.
Farmington Hills, Mich.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents created a fake university that enrolled at least 600 foreign citizens seeking student visas, prosecutors said last week. In an operation dubbed Paper Chase, federal agents created the University of Farmington, complete with a website and Latin slogan—just no campus. They hired eight recruiters who were paid a total of $250,000 to reel in clients. The students knew the school was a fraud, prosecutors say, and paid thousands of dollars to receive fake evidence of their enrollment. The eight recruiters and dozens of students, most from India, were arrested across the country last week. In a typical case, the U.S. alleges, a student called a Farmington recruiter to ask about enrolling “without attending class”—and even asked for a discount to help bring in other students. India has urged the U.S. to release the students, arguing they were duped into enrolling.
Catholic dioceses across Texas last week named 286 priests and others credibly accused of sexually abusing children since 1950. That’s nearly as many as were identified in a Pennsylvania grand jury report last August that rocked the church worldwide. It triggered inquiries in dioceses across the country, including Texas, where the church serves 8.5 million Catholics in 1,320 parishes. The Diocese of Dallas hired six retired FBI agents and state troopers to review church files and other materials in order to substantiate claims of abuse, though it’s unclear whether the review will result in criminal charges. Most of the accused predator priests have since died. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, said the names were released “because it is right and just, and to offer healing and hope to those who have suffered.”
New York City
Federal prosecutors served a sweeping subpoena on President Trump’s inaugural committee this week, demanding all documents related to donations and spending. The U.S. attorney’s office says possible crimes under investigation include conspiracy, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, disclosure violations, and receiving contributions from foreign nations. Trump’s committee raised a record $107 million to fund events surrounding the 2017 inauguration, more than double what President Obama raised in 2009. Last August, an unregistered Ukrainian foreign agent pleaded guilty to steering an illegal donation to Trump’s committee using an American “straw donor.” Much of the planning for the inauguration was handled by Rick Gates, a onetime campaign official who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. The U.S. attorney’s office also requested interviews recently with Trump Organization executives, CNN reported this week, which may signal a probe into possible campaign-finance violations.
Warren owns up
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said this week she regrets identifying as a Native American for almost two decades, days after she called Cherokee Nation chief Bill John Baker to apologize for claiming a DNA test proved her Cherokee heritage. Her apologies came after The Washington Post published the first document that shows Warren making the claim in her own handwriting; she listed her race as “American Indian” when registering for the Texas state bar in 1986. “I can’t go back, but I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and the harm that has resulted,” said Warren, who announced her plans to run for president on New Year’s Eve. Last October, she released a DNA test suggesting distant native ancestry in an effort to put the controversy to rest. Instead, it was widely ridiculed, and condemned by Native American tribes. ■