Crime & Justice

Man arrested at LAX with alleged smoke grenade admits making false statements on customs forms

Items found in Yongda Huang Harris luggage at LAX
Items found in Yongda Huang Harris luggage at LAX

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The man arrested at Los Angeles International Airport last year for allegedly checking luggage with a smoke grenade in it was released from federal prison Monday on lesser charges, but the conditions of his probation are still in dispute.

Yongda Huang Harris, 27, was arrested in October for allegedly having a smoke grenade in his checked luggage, along with various other weapons, when he arrived at LAX on a layover while traveling from Japan to Boston.

Federal prosecutors in November dropped the charge linked to the alleged smoke grenade, which was transporting hazardous material, and instead charged Harris with making false statements on customs declaration forms.

Harris has accepted a plea bargain that places him on federal probation for five years, but he’s fighting  some of the terms of his probation.

Federal prosecutor Melissa Mills told the court the government doesn’t want Harris to use certain computer tools without getting permission from his probation officer first. The list includes digital storage devices, encryption or concealing software, and compatible computer devices. 

Harris’s defense attorney Matthew Lombard, called them burdensome in court Monday. But he fought more vigorously against the prosecutor’s request for Harris to stay away from children and minors.

Lombard said in court that prosecutors have spent a lot of time and money investigating his client, “looking for any potential issue they could find.”

While searching Harris’ laptop, authorities found several Japanese anime movies depicting sexual violence against females. Mills argued the images were supposed to be children. Lombard countered they could be adults.

“There’s no evidence that looking at anime will make you a violent sexual predator,” Lombard told the judge. He also argued his client has never been charged or convicted of a sexual offense and that the restrictions prosecutors seek would treat him as such.

Mills defended the terms of the probation.

“He has moved from thoughts to action,” Mills said about Harris obtaining the videos.

Judge Christina Snyder said she was disinclined to order the restriction on Harris, but said maybe there was a more reasonable way to tailor the condition so he can work.

“I think I’m being persuaded that the no contact with children is not necessary here,” she said. Snyder added that some of the prosecutor's request is justified, calling Harris' behavior "deeply concerning."

Lombard introduced a complicated question in court: Is anime child porn? Can it be considered child erotica?

“I’m not sure I can say whether anime is child porn or not,” Snyder said.

The judge asked for Boston federal probation officials to submit a written report weighing in on the probation restrictions the prosecutors are asking for.

In the meantime, Harris, will be released after spending six months in prison. He has been ordered to report to Boston probation officers by Thursday afternoon. That is where his family lives.

Harris will not be allowed to use computers of any kind for any reason until his next June court date when prosecutors, his defense attorney and Boston federal probation officers will meet to see if they can come up with “tailored” restrictions.

Three of Harris’ family members attended the hearing, including his mother, who declined to comment.