Yupeng "David" Deng, 51, gave himself the title "supreme commander" over the fictitious U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve, which donned actual U.S. Army uniforms to participate in drills, march in a parade and visit the USS Midway museum in San Diego, authorities said.
"It's very sad that the people he recruited thought they would become citizens by doing this. They thought they were in the legitimate army," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told AOL News after the arrest Tuesday. "They were largely blue-collar-type workers he recruited, who would then tell others by word-of-mouth."
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged Deng with 13 counts of theft by false pretenses, manufacturing deceptive government documents and counterfeit of an official government seal. He is jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Prosecutors believe more than 100 Chinese nationals were charged initiation fees ranging from $300 to $450, then renewal fees of $120 a year. Anyone who wanted a promotion was told to give an additional donation.
Deng allegedly issued the men a uniform and official-looking ID cards, and then they were told to report to an office in the Los Angeles suburb of Temple City that was decorated to look like an Army recruiting center. There, Deng put his troops through indoctrination, English-language courses and drills that he had gleaned from manuals, Eimiller said.
"He made up a lot of what they did -- it was his own version of training," she said of Deng.
In reality, the office is listed with the state of California as the headquarters of All America Bail Bonds & Security Inc., and also of Special Forces Reserve. Both companies name Deng as president. In addition, Deng holds current licenses to work as a security guard and to own a firearm, according to state records.
The ruse began to unravel in 2008 when many of the recruits visited actual Army offices to renew their ID cards. The military officials notified the FBI, and an investigation began, Eimiller said.
Meanwhile, one of the staff members of Pageantry Productions -- a company that puts on an annual parade in Monterey Park to celebrate Monterey -- verified that a military group called U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Chinese Nung Association participated in the 2009 and 2010 parades. Susan Myers told AOL News that only about eight people marched, adding that they were middle-aged.
"They looked like they were wearing something like a uniform from the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars," she said. "I took them to be a veterans' group. People in general are very truthful in their representation for parades. This is a new one."