A lawyer for a former Chinese diplomat accused in a forced- labor scheme involving work on an enigmatic Old Brookville property, told a judge his client headed U.S. Rilin Corp., a company apparently linked to a Chinese construction firm whose billionaire owner has made headlines over ties to U.S. politicians.
Ex-diplomat Dan Zhong and an associate were charged in a Brooklyn federal court complaint unsealed Tuesday with using threats and “debt bondage” contracts to make laborers brought over on special visas to work at Chinese diplomatic facilities stay in the U.S. and work on private properties.
The complaint did not name their firm, but Zhong’s lawyer, in a transcript released late Tuesday, identified it as U.S. Rilin — an affiliate of China Rilin Construction Group whose owner, Wenliang Wang, has made news over donations to The Clinton Foundation and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The charges against Zhong, 46, of Livingston, New Jersey, and fugitive associate Landong Wang, marked the third recent case to involve a property matching the description of a $10 million mansion at Valentines Farm Court in Old Brookville, one of the locations where diplomatic workers allegedly were used illegally.
Previously, billionaire Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng allegedly visited the mansion during a U.S. trip last year that ended in his arrest for an alleged UN bribery scheme. Agents questioned him about possible intelligence connections of the Chinese owner of the mansion, and a Queens woman was later accused of obstruction of justice for helping the owner flee to China.
Prosecutors this week did not link U.S. Rilin to either of those cases. A lawyer for Zhong, identified as a “principal” of U.S. Rilin, had no comment, and contacts with a consultant and representative for China’s Rilin Group and Wang did not yield any comment.
The China Rilin Construction Group website indicates that the company’s sprawling interests include global construction, electric power, and shipyards. The website refers to U.S. Rilin as an “affiliated” company.
At a Saturday bail hearing in Brooklyn, Zhong lawyer Thomas Fitzpatrick told a magistrate he “would dispute” government claims that U.S. Rilin was “the U.S. arm of the, apparently Chinese company.” But Fitzpatrick would not elaborate in response to an email.
The website describes Wang as a major donor to American universities, including New York University. According to recent news reports, he directed a $2 million donation to The Clinton Foundation in 2013, and channeled donations to McAuliffe, an ex-Clinton aide and foundation board member, that came under law enforcement scrutiny.
Wang’s name also appeared in a New York Times report last year about wealthy foreigners who used shell companies to buy expensive Manhattan real estate in the Time Warner towers where the paper said he bought three condominiums.
Prosecutors in the case, filed in Brooklyn, said in a memo that Zhong “wrote two checks totaling $2 million on behalf of a relative” to buy three apartments at the Time Warner Center.