Man seeks to withdraw guilty plea

Janet H. King

A notary public who earlier pleaded guilty to lying in a passport application as part of a plea deal now wants to withdraw his guilty plea.

Liang Li has asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he was pressured to accept the plea deal.

Liang Li, 34, first came to the CNMI from the People’s Republic of China in 2004 at the age of 19. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015. He and his parents own and operate a car rental business on Saipan.

Liang Li then became a notary public pursuant to Notaries Public Act, according to his lawyer, Janet H. King.

King said that Liang Li wants to proceed to a jury trial.

The indictment had charged Liang Li and Yanan Li with lying in a passport application and false document.

Liang Li pleaded guilty last April 3 as part of a plea deal with the U.S. government

His previous counsel was Rene Holmes.

King became the lawyer for the defendant last May 29, at which time the sentencing hearing was scheduled for Aug. 17, 2018.

The sentencing hearing was later moved to Sept. 7, 2018.

King said she promptly communicated with assistant U.S. attorney James Benedetto, and with defendant’s original lawyer, to discuss withdrawing the guilty plea.

King said while attempting to withdraw the guilty plea, she communicated with Benedetto to determine whether this case could be resolved with a withdrawal of the plea deal and with charges that would be legally and factually consistent with the facts as defendant believed them to have actually occurred.

King said since the indictment, the defendant surrendered all his notarial duties to the Office of the Attorney General.

King said it was made to known to the U.S. government and Liang Li’s original counsel that he admitted to notarizing the statement of consent (DS-3053) on Jan. 10, 2018, without the presence of Jian Liu, co-defendant Yanan Li’s husband.

King said Liang Li adamantly denied notarizing the statement of consent (DS-3053) on Jan. 10, 2018, in order for Yanan Li’s infant child to be issued a U.S. passport.

The lawyer said the discovery shows that the defendant did not hesitate to admit that he made a mistake in notarizing a document on Jan. 10, 2018, with Jian Li present, but that he did so because two persons told him that DS-3053 was incorrectly filled out and he needed to fix his mistake.

King said the discovery shows that there is no relationship, business or personal, between defendant and co-defendant Yanan Li, Jian Liu or the infant.

King said at the plea hearing last April 2, defendant had difficulty in accepting the fact allegations but did so anyway out of fear of guaranteed jail time if he chose to go to trial.

King said following acceptance of defendant’s plea, defendant reached out to the U.S. Ombudsman by email where he expressed his regret and doubt over pleading guilty.

According to the indictment, on Jan. 10, 2018, the defendants lied in an application for a U.S. passport for another person.

Liang Li allegedly aided the false statement by making a false, notarized document purporting to bear the signature of Jian Liu.

Liang Li allegedly certified that he personally witnessed Jian Liu sign a DS-3053 Statement of Consent, and backdating it to Jan. 8, 2018.

The document was submitted to the U.S. Passport Office on Saipan.

Liang Li allegedly knew that Jian Liu had not signed the form on Jan. 8 or Jan. 10 as Liu had departed in the early morning hours of Jan. 10.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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