A former NYPD sergeant turned Bergen County private investigator is among a group of defendants accused in a federal indictment of stalking and harassing an expatriated couple in New Jersey to return to China to face prosecution there.
Michael McMahon, 53, of Mahwah helped “gather intelligence about and locate” the husband, who was wanted by People’s Republic of China for “embezzlement, abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes,” the indictment returned by a grand jury in Brooklyn alleges.
Two of the defendants pounded on the couple’s front door the night of Sept. 4, 2018, tried to force their way in, then left a note saying: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right,” the indictment says. “That’s the end of this matter!”
The visit, which McMahon allegedly helped arrange, was part of “Operation Fox Hunt,” which the indictment described as an international campaign to locate and then “threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate” alleged fugitives who’d fled to the U.S. and other countries into repatriating.
“Instead of operating with the approval and coordination of the U.S. government, PRC government officials carrying out ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ traveled to the United States and directed non-official operatives in the United States to engage in violations of U.S. criminal law,” the Justice department said in a release Thursday.
“Specifically, between approximately 2016 and 2019, PRC government officials, including defendant Tu Lan, the PRC prosecutor, and Hu Ji, a PRC police officer with the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, traveled to the United States and directed other defendants to engage in unsanctioned and illegal conduct on behalf of the PRC to coerce the targeted victims to return to the PRC,” the release says.
A “centerpiece” of the scheme, the indictment alleges, was an effort directed by PRC officials Tu Lan and Hu Ji to transport the husband’s elderly father from the PRC to the United States “to convey a threat…that his family in the PRC would be harmed if he did not return.”
Several defendants participated in the effort, which included bringing the husband’s physician to America along with the father, the indictment says.
McMahon — whose wife, actress Martha Byrne, was a regular on the soap opera “As the World Turns” for nearly 25 years — retired as a sergeant after 14 years with the NYPD before founding the McMahon Investigative Group in 2003, according to his online profile.
According to the indictment returned in federal court in Brooklyn, McMahon had suggested harassing the New Jersey expatriate by parking outside his house to “let him know we are there.”
“To evade detection and frustrate a criminal investigation of their conduct,” Tu Lan directed one of the conspirators to “delete all the chat content” among a group that included McMahon, the indictment alleges.
Tu Lan then returned to the PRC, where she “continued to supervise the operation with Hu Ji and other PRC officials, directed other U.S.-based conspirators to continue stalking [the husband] and then ordered the return of [his] father to the PRC” after their attempts to persuade the couple failed, it says.
McMahon's attorney has previously said that his client wasn’t aware of any possible crimes and thought he was providing private investigative services to a construction company.
Charged with international stalking along with McMahon are Tu Lan, 50, who was employed as a prosecutor with the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate; Zhai Yongqiang and Hu Ji, both 46, and Li Minjun, 65, all of China; Zhu Feng, 34, a Chinese national living in Queens; Zheng Congying, 24, of Brooklyn; and Zhu Yong – also known as “Jason Zhu” -- 64, of Norwich, CT.
The name of a ninth defendant remains under seal.
“Law enforcement officials around the world act according to a professional code of conduct,” said Acting Attorney General Mark Lesko for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “They act to enforce the law, not to violate it in such an egregious manner.
“That a prosecutor and police officer not only directed and participated in a criminal scheme on U.S. soil, but then attempted to cover it up, is an affront to justice of the highest order,” Lesko said.
“Unregistered, roving agents of a foreign power are not permitted to engage in secret surveillance of U.S. residents on American soil,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said. “[T]heir illegal conduct will be met with the full force of U.S. law.”
“These acts are undemocratic, authoritarian, and contrary to the rule of law," added Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
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