For the first time since 2007, U.S. law enforcement personnel entered China specifically to escort fugitives back to the United States. The Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made it happen.
DSS is the most widely represented U.S. law enforcement agency in the world and has personnel assigned to all six U.S. diplomatic missions in China. DSS’ extensive teams of special agents, investigators, and analysts regularly coordinate with foreign and U.S. counterparts, including those in China. So when the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) obtained information that two U.S. fugitives may be hiding out in the country, it turned to DSS.
The two separate requests for assistance came through the DSS Criminal Investigative Liaison Branch’s Special Agent Ken St. Germain, the DSS liaison to USMS. USMS was trying to locate Naquan Ferguson, who faced a 60-year prison sentence for conspiracy to commit robbery, and Toby Mendenhall, wanted for sexual assault of minors. Travel records indicated the criminals were in different parts of China, and both fugitive-location-and-return requests required coordination between multiple DSS offices, U.S. diplomatic missions in China, USMS, and various Chinese law enforcement officials.
St. Germain reached out to the DSS assistant regional security officer-investigators (ARSO-Is) located at U.S. embassies and consulates in China to continue the searches for Ferguson and Mendenhall. ARSO-Is regularly work side-by-side with their host country law enforcement counterparts to investigate crimes overseas that affect U.S. citizens.
Leads generated by USMS indicated that Ferguson might be in the Guangzhou region of China while Mendenhall was in the Shanghai area. Historically, requests by U.S. law enforcement agencies to Chinese officials in these matters resulted in little to no action in China. However, due to DSS’ renewed focus on deepening relations with Chinese law enforcement agencies over the past several years, the ARSO-Is in China have seen their strategic liaison efforts begin to pay off. The ARSO-I in Shanghai worked with his local law enforcement contacts while the ARSO-I in Guangzhou did the same. The local Chinese officials were willing to work with DSS to locate and deport each criminal; however, China has a strict governmental hierarchy and the local police requested that the DSS special agents obtain approval from the senior law enforcement agency in Beijing, the Ministry of Public Security.
According to Jason Vauters, the ARSO-I at the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai, this is where the ARSO-Is leveraged their unique skills and relationships to find the fugitives.
“Our extensive overseas experience in dealing with foreign law enforcement agencies and intensive language training was necessary to complete this mission,” said Vauters. “Also, we are the only U.S. law enforcement agency represented in each of the consular districts in China, which has helped us forge effective relationships.”
The ARSO-I in Beijing began working with the senior law enforcement officials at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS).
The MPS supported DSS’ efforts and in late May, local Chinese officials arrested Ferguson. The United States and China do not have an extradition treaty; however, Ferguson had overstayed his visa and at that point was in China illegally and subject to Chinese immigration law. The ARSO-I at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou worked with U.S. Department of State Consular Affairs personnel, who revoked Ferguson’s U.S. passport. Then, the ARSO-I in Beijing alerted China’s Ministry of Public Security of Ferguson’s new status and requested Ferguson be handed over to U.S. officials.
Mendenhall had a warrant for his arrest issued by the State of Oregon and an Interpol Red Notice charging him with sodomy and sexual abuse, which led to his U.S. passport being revoked. DSS turned its intelligence leads on Mendenhall over to its Shanghai police contacts, maintained over the years by Criminal Fraud Investigator Yi “Gracie” Zhou. The Shanghai Public Security Bureau arrested Mendenhall for illegally working in China, but his fugitive status expedited the process for the Chinese to begin processing his deportation proceedings.
“We worked tirelessly with our Chinese law enforcement counterparts to get these fugitives arrested in China and returned to the United States,” said Vauters.
In late August, three USMS officials arrived in China to escort a fugitive back to the United States – a fairly common occurrence in other countries, but unheard of in China for the last decade. On Aug. 24, 2017, China officials handed Ferguson over to USMS, and the next day USMS agents escorted Ferguson onto a New York City-bound plane.
Building on the newly invigorated levels of cooperation between the ARSO-Is and Chinese authorities, Chinese officials located and arrested Mendenhall a couple of months later. The U.S. Marshals once again entered China to escort a U.S. fugitive back to the United States.
“For Embassy Beijing, the deportation of Mendenhall helped solidify and hopefully expand future law enforcement cooperation with our Chinese counterparts,” said Sean McClanahan, the regional security officer at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai.
“Mission China ARSO-Is’ efforts were finally achieved after months of dialogue, meetings, faxes, and phone calls,” added Guangzhou ARSO-I Kevin Gonzalez. “We have been making huge efforts to establish and build closer relationships with our contacts. The nuances needed to liaise in China are unique and challenging, but our team’s strategy is bearing fruit and we look forward to continued dialogue and cooperation.”
Supporting the return of two U.S. fugitives from China meets the U.S. Department of State’s foreign policy goals by promoting U.S. national security through greater cooperation with China. Through its Criminal Investigative Liaison Branch, DSS receives approximately 1,000 requests annually from U.S. law enforcement agencies to help with fugitive apprehensions, homicides, counterfeiting, money laundering, and other criminal offenses. DSS has more than 120 ARSO-Is working across the world. In 2017, ARSO-Is and their teams assisted with more than 1,000 arrests, including foreign terrorist fighters, human traffickers, and document vendors.