A Chinese woman living in Irvine pleaded guilty Tuesday to running a business that charged pregnant Chinese women upwards of $40,000 for coaching on getting into the U.S. to give birth and secure American citizenship for their children.
Dongyuan Li, 41, is the first to be convicted in the broad scheme in which 19 others are also accused, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Santa Ana said in a news release.
Li admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and one count of visa fraud, prosecutors said.
Officials say all the remaining defendants are either pending trial or have yet to be apprehended.
Within two years, Li's firm You Win USA Vacation Services — based in Orange County — was able to rake in millions by catering to wealthy pregnant women and Chinese government officials, instructing them on how to circumvent visa requirements and avoid detection, according to the federal indictment.
The so-called "birth tourism" scheme charged each client between $40,000 and $80,000, and the expectant mothers would be lodged in one of 20 apartments around Irvine that Li controlled, authorities said.
Prosecutors say You Win claimed to have served more than 500 customers, and Li received $3 million in international wire transfers over the course of the scheme.
To get into the U.S., the company allegedly told clients to provide false information on visa applications and to immigration agents. Li also admitted to coaching customers on how to pass their consulate interview, including lying about how long they planned to stay in America, officials said.
Customers would book two flights, stopping in Hawaii before continuing to Los Angeles, because the company thought clearing customs would be easier on the island, according to the plea agreement.
Authorities say the women were also taught to conceal their pregnancies while traveling.
In entering her plea, Li agreed to forfeit more than $850,000, a Murrieta residence worth more than $500,000 and several Mercedes-Benz vehicles, officials said.
Li is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16, when she'll face a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in federal prison.