Taiwanese student pleads guilty to federal charge in U.S.

Philadelphia, Aug. 28 (CNA) A Taiwanese student pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal charge of being an alien in possession of ammunition, with sentencing scheduled for December.

An Tso Sun (???), 18, attended the hearing at the federal district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, wearing a pair of black-framed glasses, a dark green-colored top over a brown shirt and white canvass shoes.

Sun's parents, Sun Peng (??) and Di Ying (??), both celebrity entertainers in Taiwan, were not in court in an effort to minimize media focus on the case, according to Sun's defense lawyer Robert Keller.

He said the parents, who are staying in Philadelphia, visit An Tso every week.

At the court, District Judge Nitza I. Quinones Alejandro read out the plea agreement between the defendant and prosecution to ask whether Sun is pleading guilty of his own free will. She also detailed the rights Sun has yielded through a series of questions.

According to a court statement, the plea deal was reached last week, with Sun agreeing to forgo his right to a grand jury and defend himself in court.

The statement also said that Sun knows once convicted and deported he will be banned from entering the United States unless special permission is granted.

The 18-year-old was arrested March 26 on charges of making "terroristic threats with the intent to terrorize another" and possessing "an instrument of crime" after threatening to carry out a mass shooting May 1 at Bonner and Prendergast Catholic High School in Delaware, Pennsylvania.

The teenager said he was only joking when he talked about shooting up his school.

During a search of his bedroom, police found 20 rounds of 9mm Blazer Brass ammunition, a ballistic vest, a crossbow, seven arrows, various firearm accessories and shooting equipment. They also found that Sun had used a school-issued iPad to search for information on how to obtain parts to make an AK-47 or an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Authorities later discovered that Sun had built a 9mm handgun with parts bought online and was in possession of more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition for various other types of firearms.

On June 4, Sun entered an open plea in Delaware County Court to making "terroristic threats" in exchange for having the "possession of an instrument of crime" charge dropped.

According to a statement released Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Sun pleaded guilty to the terroristic threat charge in early June and was sentenced to 4-23 months' incarceration, with immediate parole, and credit for time served.

He was released into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and charged federally on June 5. Sun has been in federal custody since that time, the statement said.

The statement also said that "under federal law, as a student present in the United States on an F-1 visa (a nonimmigrant visa) without a hunting license, Sun was not permitted to possess any ammunition or firearms."

Sun faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, a US$250,000 fine, and three years' supervised release, the statement said, noting that as part of his guilty plea, Sun has agreed that upon completing his prison sentence, he is subject to immediate and permanent removal from the U.S.

While noting she has the final say despite the plea deal, Quinones agreed to issue a "judicial order of removal" and set Dec. 11 as the date for sentencing. She also ordered that a probation review report on Sun's case be completed two weeks before sentencing.

Asked by Keller whether the sentence could be handed down before the designated date as the probation department has agreed to speed up its work on the case, the judge said that would depend on the progress made.

Keller later told reporters that in the plea agreement reached between Sun and the prosecution, the federal government has pressed only one charge and agreed to deportation.

As long as Sun's parents produce an airplane ticket for him in court when the sentence is announced, he will be escorted by marshals to an airport on the judge's order, without having to go through the time-consuming deportation procedures undertaken by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency under the Homeland Security Department, Keller said.

Keller said he will try to ensure the sentence is handed down in the next 30 to 60 days so that Sun can return to Taiwan as early as possible.

Asked about Sun's condition in detention, the lawyer said the 18-year-old draws often and is well fed despite losing a little weight. Sun shares a cell with a foreign inmate, who Keller said has looked after him.

In the Tuesday statement, U.S. Attorney McSwain held Sun's parents liable, saying "parents and guardians are the first line of defense in these kinds of situations involving children's access to firearms."

"It should be obvious that no child should be stockpiling an arsenal -- or have any access to firearms or other dangerous weapons -- without their parents' or guardians' knowledge," he said.

"Every parent needs to be involved and actively aware of what is going on in their child's life. It is their duty and obligation, not only to the child, but also to the community at large."

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel