A Houston woman has pleaded guilty for her role in an alleged scheme that granted asylum to Chinese immigrants who claimed they were persecuted for their Christian beliefs.
The U.S. Department of Justice made the announcement in a press release on Friday.
Prosecutors say the Chinese nationals were given pamphlets on Christianity so they could falsify their belief in the faith.
Elizabeth Jones, aka Elizabeth Tsai, 52, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge before United States District Judge Melinda Harmon on Friday morning.
Jones, who is a former employee of a Houston law office was indicted in August 2007 and arrested in Hong Kong in January 2008.
She waived her rights to an extradition hearing in Hong Kong, and she was returned to Houston to face charges.
According to testimony given during Jones’s plea agreement, the law office for which she worked filed about 70 asylum applications on behalf of the Chinese - listing persecution based on practicing Christianity as the reason.
The DOJ says the applications were filed from 1999 to 2003 and noted the number of applications was greater than ones filed by other firms in Houston.
“One of the asylum applicants, who was a Chinese national residing in Houston, visited the law office and met with Jones,” said the press release. “Jones recommended the Chinese national file an application for asylum claiming he was persecuted in China for practicing Christianity even though he was not a Christian.”
Federal agents found the law office “routinely” provided clients seeking asylum with a Chinese-language document titled “Basic Facts About Christianity.” Some of the applicants told officials the Chinese government “tortured and beat him up badly” in an attempt to have him provide the source for Bibles arriving in China.
Jones’ conviction carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The court has permitted Jones to remain on bond pending sentencing on April 9, 2010.
Shelly Winn, of the Law Offices of Shelly Winn and Jones’ employer during the relevant period, and the receptionist were also charged for their alleged role in this scheme, according to the DOJ. Winn is set for trial in late February 2010.
The charges against the receptionist, who passed way during the investigation, have necessarily been dismissed by the court.
The DOJ says the case’s investigation was handled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorneys Gregg Costa and Doug Davis are prosecuting the case.