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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 12:09 am

UIS police find no trafficking

Investigation began after rape report

 An investigation into the reported rape of a University of Illinois Springfield student by a student adviser morphed into a probe into suspicions of human trafficking, according to UIS police reports.

University police looked into an allegation that Chinese citizens may have been trafficked to UIS for financial gain but found nothing nefarious, according to police reports released to Illinois Times. The reports show that university police consulted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and emails between the FBI and UIS police were sent to the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’ve completed our investigation from the law enforcement side,” a UIS police sergeant wrote to an FBI agent on Oct. 7, six weeks after a UIS student reported that families of Chinese students had paid as much as $48,000 “Chinese currency” as a fee to attend the university. “We have not found any evidence of human trafficking or other crimes, but our resources are limited.”

It’s unclear what role federal officials played in the investigation or the status of any federal probe. The UIS investigation began after a 17-year-old Chinese student last August reported that she’d been raped by Xuesong “Gary” Yang, a Springfield businessman and former UIS student adviser who has been charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of obstructing justice (“Springfield businessman charged with raping UIS student,” Jan. 20, 2017). An FBI agent was present when police searched Yang’s downtown Springfield office the day after the student reported that she’d been raped, according to a UIS police report.

A UIS student interviewed by Springfield police last August as part of the rape investigation said that families of Chinese students had paid between $14,000 and $48,000 “Chinese currency” as a fee for getting into college. The report doesn’t indicate who might have received payments. At least two UIS students also told city police that Yang had raped other students who were afraid to come forward. City police handled the rape case because the student said that she was attacked off-campus in Yang’s downtown office.

The UIS police department attempted to determine whether Yang or anyone else had illicitly collected money from students or their families. It’s not clear from redacted reports just what university police did to determine whether other students might have been sexually assaulted, but at least one student answered no when she was asked by police whether he had done anything inappropriate.

One week after Yang was charged with sexual assault, UIS police interviewed students he had recruited to attend the university. Payments had been made to a man whose name was redacted from reports, according to reports, but police found no wrongdoing.

“The students had their parents on the phone during parts of the conversation,” a UIS officer wrote in a report. “After speaking with them for an extended period of time it seemed as if the payments were made appropriately and when asked none of the parents claimed to have made any payments directly to Yang.” It’s not clear from reports how police communicated with parents and students who were enrolled in language classes at UIS so that they could become sufficiently proficient in English to enroll as undergraduates.

On Sept. 20, one day after meeting with a group of five students and asking about how they had paid to attend the university, a UIS police sergeant reported that he was forwarding information to the FBI “due to the complexity of the case, and the concern about illegal activity on the national and international levels.”

“There’s still a couple more students I want to talk to out here, but I don’t know if I’ll find anything,” the sergeant wrote in an email to an FBI official.

Aside from the trafficking investigation, UIS police reports show that the alleged rape came to light after the alleged victim, who’d arrived in the United States less than two weeks earlier and was not fluent in English, told others in her dorm that she’d been raped. One of the persons she told spoke with university police.

“He stated (the victim) reported Yang’s conduct somewhere between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m….” an officer wrote in his report. “(Redacted) told me when he went to meet (the victim), he could hear her crying loudly before he reached her room. (Redacted) stated that when he talked to (the victim) about the incident she continued to cry and was visibly upset. (Redacted) told me after he spoke to (the victim) he contacted resident director (redacted). He said other faculty/staff members of the UIS housing department were contacted.”

Video footage showed the student being dropped off at her dorm at 2:06 a.m.—she reported that Yang had driven her back to UIS after raping her in his downtown Springfield office. University police reports show that UIS police started their investigation at 10:38 p.m. that same day. Asked whether police were immediately alerted, Derek Schnapp, UIS spokesman, said that the student did not report being raped until 9 p.m., nearly 20 hours after she said that she’d been attacked. After the victim reported the incident to a resident assistant in her dorm, a resident director was alerted and police were promptly called, Schnapp said.

“Springfield police were also notified immediately and met with UIS police and the student the night it was reported,” Schnapp wrote in an email.

UIS reports heavily redacted
Attorney general asks for more information

Police reports released by the University of Illinois Springfield are redacted to the point that it is difficult to determine exactly how university police responded, or just what police were told by students and others after police received reports of rape and illicit fees paid to enter the U.S. and attend the university.

One example: “The (redacted) program requires very little records of the students,” a UIS police officer wrote in a portion of the redacted reports obtained by Illinois Times via a Freedom of Information Act request. “It has been reported to me (redacted).” A half-page is then blacked out.

In an email to the paper that accompanied the redacted reports, Thomas Hardy, University of Illinois chief records officer, asserts that nine FOIA exemptions allow the redactions. Illinois Times has asked the state attorney general to determine whether redactions are legal. The attorney general’s office has told UIS to provide the attorney general with unredacted copies of police reports and justify each redaction individually rather than simply list exemptions en masse without saying how each redaction is applicable under the law.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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