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Conviction in license case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A man prosecutors said was a prime mover in a ring that brought Chinese nationals to New Mexico to get false documentation in support of driver’s licenses has been convicted on 77 of 119 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy and making a false affidavit/perjury.

“The case starts in March 2009,” Deputy District Attorney Michael Fricke told the jury as the case began. He described a tiny, efficiency apartment at an address on San Mateo at which 13 people claimed to reside when they applied for driver’s licenses in New Mexico.

Tin Cheung, a 39-year-old New Jersey resident, was the renter of the apartment from April to June 2009, Fricke said, and his name was on the lease. It was he who signed affidavits of residency for all the residents, which were then taken to the Motor Vehicle Division office in order to obtain driver’s license.

“This was his business,” Fricke told the jury, “to provide documents to non-New Mexicans, and bring them to (MVD) offices to get licenses.”

Defense attorney Monnica Garcia said the case was not about criminal intent, but about the state launching a criminal investigation when officials saw Asians applying for licenses.

“You won’t hear a single witness say, ‘Yeah, he provided false documentation,’ ” she said, reminding jurors that her client was presumed innocent.

Fricke said after the trial that the state was unable to find any applicants and call them to testify.

Fricke and Assistant District Attorney Jessica Randall presented evidence that Cheung was a business partner of Gordeon Leong, who recruited clients with ads in a Chinese language New York newspaper.

Leong, 26, a U.S.-born citizen, was separately charged in New Mexico with nearly 400 counts – a number later whittled down by the trial judge and prosecutors.

After one mistrial, Leong ultimately was convicted of two counts of forgery, one count of conspiracy to commit forgery and making a false affidavit/perjury, and received a suspended sentence of four years and six months. That conviction is on appeal.

A third person, Alex Cheung, was indicted and is being sought on a warrant, Fricke said in an interview. He said Tin Cheung was not formally arrested for a year and a half after the indictment, and then had to be extradited from New Jersey, contributing to trial delay. He said Tin Cheung posted $75,000 bond.

Jurors in the document-heavy case spent a day and a half in deliberations after testimony before Judge Judith Nakamura last week.