- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A Chinese woman who told a federal judge she sought asylum in the U.S. after taking part in demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for her role in a Las Vegas casino baccarat-fraud scheme.

Irene Li’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender William Carrico, said Thursday he was “virtually certain” the 53-year-old Li will be deported to China after her 47 months in prison.

Li applied for political refuge more than 10 years ago, but her case was denied and she remained subject to deportation, Carrico said. He said Li told him she had been active in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement and fled to the U.S. to avoid arrest.

Li pleaded guilty in October to one charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a plea deal that had 28 wire fraud charges against her dismissed.

She asked Wednesday for leniency from U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon, saying through a Mandarin language interpreter that she felt ashamed and sorry for her crimes, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1fa6UKN ).

Gordon credited Li with participating in the demonstrations in China nearly 25 years ago, but he said it didn’t excuse her criminal actions in Las Vegas.

The judge ordered Li to repay $2.2 million in damages to five Las Vegas casinos - the Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Mirage and MGM Grand.

Li’s husband, Xi Sheng Zhang, 57, remains a fugitive in the case, said Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden.

Li and Zhang were indicted in April 2011 on charges that they recruited people to open bank accounts, apply for casino credit and withdraw chips to play baccarat between 2004 and 2009.

Prosecutor Andrew Duncan alleged that Li and Zhang placed recruits at tables where they gambled and used a scheme known as “rolling the chips” to give chips to co-conspirators.

The chips were cashed, and Li gave the recruits a cut of the ill-gotten proceeds, Duncan said. The recruits then disappeared, leaving the casinos unable to collect their debts.