Yupeng Deng, a Chinese man living in Los Angeles, is accused of creating a phony U.S. Army reserve unit to swindle thousands of dollars from fellow immigrants. Here, a brief guide to the case:
How did Deng build a fake army?
The 51-year-old convinced undocumented Chinese immigrants he was the "supreme commander" of the "U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve Unit," prosecutors say. Deng allegedly told recruits that joining was an easy path to U.S. citizenship. He decorated his office like a military recruiting center, and charged initiation fees of up to $450 per soldier. More than 100 Chinese nationals fell for the scheme. "What an alien won't do for a green card these days," says Simone Wilson at L.A. Weekly.
What did the soldiers get in return?
Phony U.S. Army uniforms and military I.D. cards. Deng also gave his recruits "training and indoctrination," and led them on a field trip, in uniform, to the U.S. Midway Museum in San Diego. The troops even marched in parades in Monterey Park, Calif. Troops could increase their rank by giving Deng even more money, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.
How does Deng explain his phony army?
The would-be military commander's attorney says the group was merely set up to help Chinese immigrants "assimilate into American society," and noted that Deng's group was registered as a nonprofit in California in 2009. "When you apply for American citizenship, you have to show you're a person of good moral character," says his attorney, as quoted in The New York Times. "The group ... was for people who wanted to train to apply for the military."
What is he being charged with?
Deng is charged with 13 felony counts relating to the bogus army, and one count of child pornography relating to images police found on Deng's computer when they searched his home. He could face eight years in prison for the charges related to his pretend army, and another three years for the child pornography charge.