October 21, 2020

California judge rejects bid to return Chinese scientist to jail

A federal judge has rejected prosecutors’ request that bail for a Chinese researcher be revoked, saying that the government is unfairly trying to link her to spying without filing such charges.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez, in a three-page order issued Thursday morning, refused to order Dr. Juan Tang removed from the custody of a Bay Area lawyer who has taken her in and return her to the Sacramento County Main Jail while she awaits trial on charges of lying about her ties to China’s military and communist party.

The order upholds an earlier finding by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman that Tang could be released under an agreement in which Foster city attorney Steven Cui — who does not know Tang — agreed to put up his home to provide the $750,000 bail for Tang, who came to California in December to conduct cancer research at UC Davis.

“The government argues that defendant is a flight risk and that the conditions of release imposed by (Magistrate Judge) Newman do not mitigate this flight risk in this case,” Mendez wrote. “The court disagrees.

“The government suggests or infers that the defendant is a participant in a conspiracy against the United States, i.e. that defendant is a foreign spy, but no such charges have been filed.”

Prosecutors and Justice Department officials have linked Tang’s case to a number of arrests of Chinese researchers at American universities nationwide who have been accused of lying about their ties to China’s military or have allegedly tried to carry sensitive research information back to China.

But Tang’s lawyers have argued that the case against her is weak, that she is not charged with any form of espionage and that, if she is convicted on the visa fraud charges she faces, she likely would serve only six months.

The government contends Tang has no ties to the United States and is a flight risk who must be detained while awaiting a resolution of her case.

Prosecutors also argue that the FBI has unearthed evidence that Tang was a member of China’s People’s Liberation Army-Air Force and has ties to the communist party there, despite her denying such affiliations on her visa application.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heiko Coppola also has noted that after Tang was questioned by FBI agents are her Davis apartment over the summer she fled to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco and remained there out of the reach of authorities until she emerged for a medical appointment.

Defense attorneys Malcolm Segal and Tom Johnson have argued that Tang went to the consulate only after agents seized her passport and electronic devices, and that she is a respected scientist who has no desire to become an international fugitive by fleeing the country.

Tang came to California in December to conduct cancer research at UC Davis, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the lab and essentially left her without the possibility of moving forward.

Mendez sided with the defense, writing that prosecutors’ attempts to tie Tang’s case to other prosecutions are without merit.

“Stated another way, the government suggests that this court should treat this case as one involving espionage charges, even though no such charges have been filed against the defendant,” Mendez wrote. “The present charges against the defendant, however, do not weigh in favor of detention.

“The offense alleged involves answers to written questions on a visa application regarding prior military service. Even were there to be a conviction, the potential punishment under the sentencing guidelines includes a sentence that could very likely be less than the time defendant would have to serve in custody awaiting trial.”

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.

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