One of two defendants in a sex trafficking case has told the federal court that, like many others, he came to the CNMI from China after being promised that he will be given a U.S. immigration status if he could get to Saipan prior to the federalization of local immigration.
Yanchun Li, through counsel Mark A. Scoggins, said he was lured to the CNMI through false promises that he could work and be given U.S. immigration status prior to federalization.
Scoggins said that prior to relocating to Saipan, Li lost his family's entire savings in the worldwide financial meltdown known in Asia as the “Lehman Shock.”
Moving to Saipan with his son was Li's way to start over, Scoggins said, but the promises of work and status that brought Li to the island were false.
The indictment charged Li and Wei Lin with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and to benefit financially from a sex trafficking venture; three counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; and one count of financially benefiting from a sex trafficking venture.
Under the scheme, women from China were lured to Saipan on false promises of jobs and then forced into prostitution once they got here.
Li and Wei Lin pleaded guilty.
Scoggins noted that as stated in the U.S. Probation Office's presentence investigation report, Li was not part of the inner circle of conspirators in the offense.
Scoggins said that “inner circle” seems to have been a group of five other men who took their orders from co-defendant Wei Lin.
The defense counsel said Li comes from Jilin province, while Wei Lin and the members of the “inner circle” came from Fujian province. He said Wei Lin and the men came from a different province and spoke the Fujian dialect.
They considered Li an outsider because he came from a different province, Scoggins said.
He said Li's knowledge of the activities of Wei Lin and the others was limited. Scoggins said Wei Lin deliberately kept Li in the dark by speaking a language that Li did not understand.
“Li did have some knowledge of the criminal activity, and he is culpable, but his knowledge was very limited,” the lawyer said.
Scoggins objected to the presentence investigation report that included Li among the list of persons who “monitored” the victims.
“The evidence shows that Mr. Li was a driver and nothing more,” he stressed.
The U.S. Probation, he said, has recommended that Li's sentence be reduced by two levels, reflecting Li's supposed role as a “minor participant” in the criminal activity.
Li was nothing more than the driver, Scoggins said, and should receive the benefit of a four level deduction in accordance with the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Li was clearly a “minimal participant” and should be treated as such, the lawyer said, adding that his client should be sentenced to the low end of the guideline range at 15 months.
“At that point, Mr. Li will be placed on removal proceedings and sent back to China. This is the appropriate punishment for Mr. Li's limited offense conduct,” he said.