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NYPD officer fired amidst FBI spying investigation

Lieutenant Steven Li has just been fired by the New York Police Department following a federal investigation of illegal activities of a Chinese foreign agent, according to NYPD disciplinary records revealed by Documented.

Li worked at the Internal Affairs Bureau and was kicked out of the force on February 16th. He had served 20 years with the NYPD and had no prior disciplinary issues, but the department fired him for “failure to report” and making “false statements”.

Investigations by both the NYPD and FBI reveal that from the end of 2019 to fall 2021, Li helped a Chinese national named Sun Hoi Ying to connect with an individual targeted by the Chinese government. According to both court and NYPD documents, Sun was accused of being paid by the Chinese government to come to the U.S. to conduct “Operation Fox Hunt”, a program used by China’s Minister of Public Security to extradite alleged Chinese fugitives. This is often done while bypassing foreign authorities in the countries where fugitives have settled.

Li was introduced to Sun by an acquaintance, and soon brokered meetings for Sun in New York with an unnamed person according to the documents. The unnamed person was accused of embezzling money from a Chinese state-owned company before moving to the U.S. in 2001. Li knew the victim through community events, and he made it clear to them that he was a police officer and wasn’t a representative for Sun nor the Chinese government.

 Sun was charged with working as a foreign agent for China without notifying the U.S. Attorney General in advance back in 2022. 

He remains at large.

“This case demonstrates, once again, the PRC’s disdain for the rule of law and its efforts to coerce and intimidate those it targets on our shores as part of its Operation Fox Hunt”, said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen in a press release in March.

According to the NYPD document, the agency’s internal investigation found Li not guilty of the “foreign agent” charges against him, saying “There was no evidence to show that Li was aware that Sun was working for the Chinese government when the meetings took place, nor did it find that he took money from China or threatened the victim.”, as mentioned in a Documented article by Rong Xiaoqing.

However, the investigation showed that Li told the FBI that he unaware of the purpose of the first meeting between the two parties that he helped arrange, and that he altered his account of events when he realized the FBI might have known the facts.

Li was also found guilty of not following internal guidelines by not reporting the FBI’s investigation. Documented reached out to both Li and his lawyer, who both declined to comment.

Li was the second Chinese police officer to be fired because of foreign-agent related cases, the first being Baimadajie Angwang, an ethnic Tibetan police officer from China. Angwang was charged by the federal government for conspiring with China, but all charges would later be dropped. The NYPD would continue its internal investigation against Anwgang, and he would be fired for failing to show up at an internal interview. Angwang’s lawyers described the situation as “unlawful” because the NYPD refused to share any information with him in advance.

In an interview with Documented, Angwang said that “I see a lot of similarities between his case and mine. It’s like if they want to incriminate you, they can always find excuses,”. He further added that “I wonder if we were not from China, would we still be treated this way?”.

Hugh Mo, an attorney who worked as the first Asian deputy trial commissioner of the NYPD, dismissed questions Documented sent him regarding the fairness of Li’s punishments. He told Documented that despite the “political overtone”, lying to the FBI is enough to justify his dismissal. A Chinese American detective who wished to remain anonymous told Documented that he disagreed, saying that “This is a typical political case. When they cannot crush you in court, they utilize internal tools.” He also compared these trials to the ones during the McCarthy era.

This investigation comes at a time where Chinese immigrants have been subjected to increased scrutiny amidst growing tensions between China and the United States. As a result of these tensions, and fears of increased Chinese surveillance on American soil, actions taken to counter these fears have ended up affecting Chinese communities negatively.

These include 17 states since 2023 launching new laws restricting Chinese citizens from purchasing property, and Chinese citizens in Florida being barred from purchasing homes or working in university labs.

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