HOUSTON — An illegal alien from China pleaded guilty Friday to possessing a firearm as an illegal alien and to aggravated identity theft.
This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Xiangyu Zhang, 22, a resident of La Marque, Texas, illegally remained in the United States two years after his temporary visa expired. He came to law enforcement’s attention in July 2018 when he threatened to use firearms to kill school children during an internet chat session on the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Crisis Line. Zhang is a not a U.S. veteran.
“We believed that Zhang presented a real danger to the community based on the threats that he made on the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline,” said Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Mark Dawson, HSI Houston. “Shortly after being alerted to those threats, our special agents conducted their investigation, secured an arrest warrant, and located and arrested Zhang before he had the opportunity to harm anyone.”
Law enforcement arrested Zhang at a gas station close to his residence. At that time, he was sitting in a vehicle with two loaded and ready-to-fire firearms, including an AM-15 rifle.
“Holding people responsible for unlawfully being in possession of firearms and fighting violent crime remains at the forefront of the ATF mission,” said SAC Fred Milanowski, ATF. “Working with our partners at HSI to become a force multiplier will ensure our community is safe.”
Upon Zhang’s arrest, law enforcement also found a passport belonging to a woman who lived in the Dallas area. Zhang had stolen the woman’s purse containing the passport in August 2017 after he served as her Uber driver. Within hours of stealing her purse, Zhang, while using the woman’s identity without her permission, attempted to purchase several high-end items online from Apple.
Law enforcement also found a picture of a fake U.S. passport page with Zhang’s picture and the woman’s passport number on Zhang’s phone.
A few months after stealing the purse, Zhang defrauded Bank of America in March 2018 for more than $11,000. In late June 2018, and a few days before making those threats on the VA chat line, Zhang stole an IRS refund check from his neighbor’s mailbox and deposited it into his bank account.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller accepted Zhang’s pleas Dec. 17 and set sentencing for March 19, 2019. At that time, he faces up to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum $250,000 fine for the firearm possession conviction. He also faces a mandatory two years for the identity theft conviction, which must be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed. Zhang remains in custody pending that hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.