- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Ten men and women from China who were considered witnesses in the investigation of so-called maternity tourism operators in Southern California were charged Wednesday with violating court orders to stay in the United States during the probe.

Authorities said the men and women were among 29 witnesses federal agents had encountered when they searched homes during a crackdown of businesses that arrange for pregnant Chinese women to give birth in the U.S. so their babies would automatically become American citizens. Investigators believe they paid up to $50,000 for housing, food and transportation for medical appointments during their stay.

Prosecutors had agreed not to charge the men and women for allegedly lying about the purpose of their trip on visa applications in exchange for their cooperation into the probe, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles E. Pell.

But since they fled the country earlier this month, they were charged with obstruction of justice, criminal contempt of court and making a false statement on a visa application.

“Going forward, they will be defendants,” Pell said.

An 11th defendant who had not been formally ordered to stay in the United States as a witness was charged only with visa fraud.

Federal arrest warrants were issued for all 11 defendants. While there is no extradition treaty between the United States and China, the defendants will be arrested if they try to come back to the United States, Pell said.

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