NEW YORK — A jury has found that a retired police sergeant and two other men illegally participated in Chinese government efforts to try to pressure a local couple into returning to China.

The trio had been accused of aggressively helping China in its plan to draw a New Jersey couple, Xu Jin and his wife Liu Fang, back to their homeland, where Jin, a former Chinese government employee, was accused of stealing $30 million from the government.

The push was part of an organized program by China — known as “Operation Fox Hunt” — to track down dissidents and people accused of crimes in China who are living abroad and get them to come back to face possible discipline.

As part of the effort, China sent Jin’s 83-year-old father from China to New Jersey in 2017. The older man, as instructed by his handlers, tried to convince his son to return to China.

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At trial, prosecutors described years of harassment that was endured by the couple and their relatives.

“This was a relentless campaign by the Chinese Government to scare Xu Jin and Liu Fang into returning to China,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Arfa argued in summations last week at the trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Retired New York Police Department sergeant Michael McMahon, who was working as a private investigator, was convicted of acting as a foreign agent without notifying the U.S. government, as required by law. He was also found guilty of interstate stalking and conspiracy to engage in interstate stalking.

The former police officer was acquitted of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent. At trial, prosecutors described how McMahon obtained personal information on the couple — including banking records — to help representatives of the Chinese government find the couple’s address and other private information.

An attorney for McMahon argued to the jury that he didn’t know he’d been hired on behalf of China. But prosecutors said it was clear that McMahon had figured out who he was working for.

“McMahon knew exactly what was going on right from the beginning,” Arfa said in closing arguments. “He did some basic research and he almost immediately found a newspaper article and other information that made clear exactly why he had been hired to find Xu Jin.”

Zheng Congying, who was accused of staking out the couple’s home and leaving a note that argued the husband should surrender to Chinese authorities, was convicted of stalking and stalking conspiracy. He was acquitted of charges relating to acting as a foreign agent.

The third man on trial, Zhu Yong, was convicted on all four counts: acting as a foreign agent, interstate stalking and conspiracy counts related to both crimes. He was accused of hiring McMahon for the Chinese government and brokering a main part of the strategy to find the couple and press them to return.

The two men were living in New York City at the time of their arrest in October 2020.

This case was the first “Operation Fox Hunt” trial to be held in the U.S. after the Justice Department began its crackdown on China’s extrajudicial repatriation program.

McMahon faces up to 20 years in prison, Zhu faces up to 25 and Zheng faces up to a decade.

In a statement after the verdict, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said the three men “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 China.

“It is particularly troubling that [McMahon], a former sergeant in the New York City Police Department, engaged in surveillance, harassment, and stalking on behalf of a foreign power for money,” Peace added.


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