Late last month, U.S. citizens were found guilty of acting as agents for the People’s Republic of China to harass and intimidate other U.S. citizens.
Three defendants were convicted of various charges, including conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and harassment.
Michael McMahon, a former New York Police Department sergeant who now works as a private eye, and Zhu Yong, also known as “Jason Zhu”, were convicted on all charges. Zheng Congying was convicted of conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and interstate stalking.
The charges stem from the defendant’s participation in what’s known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” Launched in 2014, Operation Fox Hunt is a global campaign under the direction of Xi Jinping, leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
The program reportedly aids the Chinese government in locating and returning fugitives or wanted individuals to China. The program is controversial, as China carried an exit ban policy against dissidents, political activists and their family members.
Critics of the policy state the potential abuse of power and potential persecution of uninvolved individuals is high. Exit bans for Chinese U.S. citizens were lifted in 2021.
According to a press release issued by the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, McMahon faces up to 20 years of incarceration at sentencing while Zhu faces 25 and Zheng 10.
“The verdict confirms that defendants McMahon and Zhu knowingly acted at the direction of a hostile foreign state to harass, intimidate and attempt to cause the involuntary return of a resident of the New York metropolitan area to the People’s Republic of China, and that defendant Zheng harassed and intimidated that same person and his family,” Breon Peace, attorney, said.
According to ABC 7, McMahon maintains he did not realize he was working for the PRC and was following orders in his employment as a private investigator, hired by Zhu.
“A little numb, shock, disappointment in our criminal justice system,” McMahon said.
During the trial, McMahon stated he was privately contracted for surveillance and was only told the subject was suspected of embezzling money from a Chinese construction company.
McMahon based his defense on his following of protocol, which includes informing local police numerous times that he was conducting surveillance.
“If I’m trying to hide something or commit a crime, I’m not going to notify the local police departments,” he said.
McMahon’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, also said an appeal is likely.
“I think there are a lot of good arguments for why this verdict is unjust. We will fight this until as long as there is a legal avenue available to us,” Lustberg said.