Ex New York police sergeant convicted of acting as Chinese agent in ‘Fox Hunt’ trial

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A former New York City police sergeant was convicted by a jury on Tuesday of acting as an illegal Chinese agent by intimidating a U.S.-based fugitive to try to get him to return to his homeland to face charges.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said Michael McMahon was hired to surveil New Jersey resident Xu Jin, who was accused by China of corruption as part of a global repatriation campaign by Chinese law enforcement called “Operation Fox Hunt.”

The case was the first of several involving alleged Fox Hunt schemes to reach trial in the United States.

“We will remain steadfast in exposing and undermining efforts by the Chinese government to reach across our border and perpetrate transnational repression schemes,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn said in a statement.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said repatriating fugitives was a “just cause” and urged the United States to cooperate with its efforts to return people suspected of corruption and financial crimes.

“The U.S. turns a blind eye to basic facts and smears Chinese efforts to repatriate corrupt fugitives and recover illegal proceeds,” Liu said in a statement.

McMahon, who became a private investigator after retiring from the police force, contended that he thought he was working for a company seeking to recover embezzled funds, and did not know he was working for the Chinese government.

“If he had, he would not have taken the job,” his lawyer Lawrence Lustberg said after the verdict, which McMahon plans to challenge.

Prosecutors said McMahon knew the Chinese government was behind the push, and even got paid during a meeting with a Chinese official at a Panera Bread restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey.

“No person doing legitimate business is handed a five-thousand-dollar wad of cash in a Panera Bread,” prosecutor Meredith Arfa said in her June 14 closing argument.

Jurors also convicted McMahon on a stalking charge, but found him not guilty of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. A sentencing date has not yet been set.


Co-defendant Zhu Yong, who hired McMahon in 2016 for the job, was convicted on all charges.

Zhu’s lawyer, Kevin Tung, said the defendants were “used” by China, and that individuals who unknowingly act as agents of foreign governments should not be held liable.

A third defendant, Zheng Congying was convicted of stalking but found not guilty of acting as a Chinese agent.

Prosecutors said Zheng posted a note on Xu’s door in 2018 reading: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right.”

Renee Wong, a lawyer for Zheng, said she was disappointed with the stalking verdict, but pleased the jury saw her client as having “no connection to the Chinese government.”

Xu testified on June 9 that said he reported Zheng’s act to the FBI, as he had with previous threats.

“Before I saw this I felt that the threats from the Chinese Communist Party was only a mental threat to me,” said Xu, who was a municipal official in Wuhan before moving to the United States. “When I saw that note, I realized that it had become a physical threat.”

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)