Fake army figure modeled group after Salvation Army, attorney says
An El Monte man accused of preying on Chinese immigrants by charging them to join a fake U.S. Army unit is actually a charity-minded businessman who modeled his military group after the Salvation Army, according to his attorneys.
David Deng, 51, appeared in a Pomona courtroom Wednesday, shackled and wearing jail-issued clothing -- a far cry from the smart military-like uniform he wore as the “supreme commander” of the U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve.
His arraignment was postponed to May 2 and a bail hearing set for Friday, when his attorney said he'll argue for a reduction in his client's $500,000 bail.
“That is an outrageous amount for these type of charges,” said Darren Cornforth, one of Deng’s attorneys. “I don’t believe he is a flight risk or danger to the community.”
His lawyers said their client was a businessman in China who came to the U.S. about 10 years ago to seek political asylum from religious persecution.
“He is an immigrant who came here to pursue his American dream,” said Daniel Deng, his other lawyer. The two are not related.
Deng decided to do some volunteer work in America and started his organization in 2008, his attorney said.
“At the advice of his attorney, he set up a nonprofit, hoping to imitate the Salvation Army and other groups to show support to our military,” said Daniel Deng. “He thought it’s a good way to show his patriotism and gratitude to his new motherland.”
Prosecutors, though, say Deng’s unit was a scam that preyed on Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley who believed joining the group would improve their chances of getting U.S. citizenship.
“I just want to cry,” said Deng's wife, Lisa, outside the courtroom. “We really didn’t expect something like this.”
Deng is charged with 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeiting an official government seal, according the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
-- Ching-Ching Ni
Photo: Authorities say David Deng, shown with his recruits, charged members $300 to $450 to join plus an annual $120 fee. He told them that joining the group would increase their chances of becoming U.S. citizens, according to court papers. Credit: FBI