The NYPD officer accused of illegally serving as an agent for the Chinese government said that he is a victim of sloppy, overzealous officials and anti-Asian prejudice, just days after a federal judge dismissed the indictment against him.
Baimadajie Angwang, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan, said he never spied for China and suspects he became a target of prosecutors who were supposed to be combating intellectual theft, economic espionage and cybercrimes sponsored by Beijing, but instead cast a wide net over anyone with a connection to China.
“When the government is using their power to ruin individuals’ lives, for example, mine, what can we do to prevent that? What can we do to hold them accountable?” Angwang, 36, of Williston Park, said Monday evening during an exclusive interview with Newsday at the Garden City office of his attorney, John Carman.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District declined comment.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The NYPD officer accused of illegally serving as an agent for the Chinese government said that he is a victim of sloppy, overzealous officials and anti-Asian prejudice.
- Federal prosecutors filed papers this month asking U.S. District Judge Eric R. Komitee to dismiss a four-count indictment against Baimadajie Angwang, more than two years after he was arrested at his home. Komitee agreed to dismiss the case in a brief hearing on Thursday.
- Angwang spent six months, mostly in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and then years under home monitoring. He remains on paid leave from the NYPD.
Federal prosecutors filed papers earlier this month asking U.S. District Judge Eric R. Komitee to dismiss a four-count indictment against Angwang, more than two years after he was arrested at his home, in front of his wife and young daughter, in September 2020. Komitee agreed to dismiss the case in a brief hearing on Thursday.
Angwang is no longer a target of the U.S. Justice Department, but the dismissal hardly makes him whole. He spent six months, mostly in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn before Carman persuaded Komitee to release him on bail, and then spent years under home monitoring. He remains on paid leave from the NYPD, but it’s not clear if he will return to the job he says he loves. People continue to dump trash on his front lawn, he said.
“Is America still a welcoming place for immigrants like me? How much more do I have to show to gain your acceptance as a full American?” Angwang asked.
Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York had said Angwang began working as an agent for China in 2018 and was secretly supplying information on Tibetans who supported independence from Beijing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Haggans said prosecutors decided to drop the case after a full assessment of the evidence but did not provide more details, and Komitee said the “fairly oblique” language in the government’s papers suggested classified information may be involved.
“What is frustrating about it is that it doesn’t give the public any specific reason for this incredible momentous decision they made, to dismiss an indictment,” Carman said. “It’s not something that happens very frequently, especially in the federal system.”
The lack of information, Carman added, unfairly stokes speculation that Angwang is guilty of the crimes in the indictment — acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. government, wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction of an official proceeding. Angwang faced decades in prison if convicted.
“But you can read the government’s comments in another way, which is we’ve looked at a lot of information and compared it with the information we had, and it seems to suggest if we went to trial, we wouldn’t be able to win, that he is innocent,” Carman said. “If that is the case, they should come out and say it. He deserves it at this point.”
Prosecutors had said that Angwang communicated regularly with two Chinese consular officials in New York. In intercepted communications, according to the government, the NYPD cop refers to one of the officials as “big brother” and “boss.” Angwang said he acted obsequiously with Chinese officials because he hoped to get a visa to visit his parents, who have never met his daughter, and that the federal authorities relied on faulty translations and don't understand Chinese culture.
“In the culture, that is the respectful way,” Angwang said. “If you are my father’s age, I would address you as uncle. If you are younger than my father’s age but you are older than me, I would call you big sister or big brother. It is a sign of respect.”
Angwang is an ethnic Tibetan who was born in China and first traveled to the United States on a cultural exchange visa when he was 16 years old.
Many Tibetans believe their nation was illegally annexed by China in 1951, and Angwang said he was arrested, detained and beaten by authorities when he returned from the United States for advocating for equality for Tibetans. He returned to the U.S. when he was 17 years old and successfully applied for political asylum.
“As a teenager, we wanted to save the world, we wanted to do the right thing, something you believe. At that time, I believed we needed more equality, more rights,” Angwang said.
Angwang joined the Marine Corps in 2009, a year before he became a naturalized citizen, in order to serve the country that had taken him in. The Marines, meanwhile, embraced him, he said, fueling his loyalty and commitment to America.
“Just imagine, you are a foreign-born person, spoke limited English in the Marine Corps, and everybody is so nice, everybody tries to help you out,” Angwang said. “Somehow everybody was my English tutor when I was in Marines and the experience I had was unforgettable.”
Angwang received an honorable discharge in 2014 and enlisted in the Army Reserve. He joined the NYPD in 2016, working as a community affairs officer in the 111th Precinct in Bayside, Queens, before his arrest. He told Newsday he loves the job, loves his NYPD colleagues, and is eager to return to work. Carman said he’s been in discussions with the department and the PBA about Angwang’s return.
“It’s the greatest and the biggest police department in the world,” Angwang said. “I always looked up to NYPD officers and finally I was lucky enough to become one … it’s something I love and it’s something I would like to continue to do. I just can’t get back to work and serve the community.”
Angwang said he was leaving his Williston Park home and headed to work on Sept. 21, 2020, when FBI agents pointing M4 carbine rifles arrested him as his wife and then two-year-old daughter looked on.
His arrest came two years after the Justice Department under then-President Donald Trump kicked off the China Initiative, a program designed to battle espionage and cybercrimes sponsored by Beijing.
Civil rights groups, businesses and universities argued that devising a program aimed solely at China missed security threats from other nations, discouraged academic collaboration and contributed to anti-Asian prejudice. The Justice Department lost or withdrew several cases it filed under the initiative, which was ended last year by the Biden administration.
Angwang said he was a victim of prosecutors who crafted a narrative and then manipulated statements he made to bolster their case. He was incarcerated for nearly six months at the MDC in Brooklyn, where he became infected with COVID-19. He saw his attorney and his family just once during that period, he said, due to COVID restrictions at the jail. Angwang was finally released after Komitee granted Carman’s fourth bail application.
Angwang was originally scheduled to go to trial in October. That got pushed back to February, and then July. In January 2021, prosecutors said in court that they offered Angwang a plea offer that carried a wide range of punishment — from time served to 10 years in prison, to be determined by a judge. Angwang declined the deal.
“Newsday's readers should know, that when they were forced to, the government acknowledged that they had no evidence, this was four or five months ago, that Mr. Angwang turned over any sensitive information to this official of the Chinese embassy,” Carman said.
“It is 100% clear and uncontroverted that he never even mentioned to this supposed intelligence-asset handler that he had an affiliation with the United States Marine Corps,” Carman added. “He never mentioned the fact that he was an active member of the Army Reserves, and these are the types of things that an intelligence asset who was trying to be of value to a foreign power would obviously put in play. There is no question that that did not happen.”
Angwang said his experience has not soured him on America. The federal officials who investigated and prosecuted him, he said, are not representative of the people he met in the Marine Corps, Army Reserve and NYPD.
“For the horrible things they have done to me and my family, my friends, my reputation, my career, they are not going to change my love and respect for Americans and America,” he said.
But that won’t stop him from trying to learn why he was targeted for so long.
“So, my question is, is it racially motivated? Is it abusing power?” “Angwang said. “Those are the questions I think they should answer.”