A woman in China once hailed as a philanthropist for adopting over 100 children was sentenced Wednesday to two decades in jail for fraud and gang-related crimes after she allegedly used some of the children to help her blackmail companies.
Li Yanxia, 54, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $387,900 after she used her orphanage known as "Love Village" to commit several instances of fraud, according to a state tabloid.
A post by the Wu'an City People's Court on microblogging site Weibo said that Li was also charged with extortion and fraud.
The Global Times reported a gang of 16, which included Li and her boyfriend Xu Qi, were also convicted. Xu was charged with disturbing social order, extortion, fraud and intentional injury and faced a fine of $174,600.
Some of the other members of the gang received prison sentences of up to four years, according to the tabloid.
A court said that Li had abused her orphanage's influence and committed various fraud to "obtain vast economic benefit."
Authorities discovered that since 2011, she was carrying out various illegal activities including having some of her adopted children hinder work at construction sites with tasks such as running under trucks and then blackmailing construction companies, according to the BBC.
After news of her adopting dozens of children spread, Li managed to become one of the richest women in the Chinese province of Hebei, according to the BBC. At the peak, she had 118 children under her care.
When authorities began investigating her in May 2018, they found she had more than $2.9 million in bank accounts and owned luxury vehicles such as Land Rovers and Mercedes Benz.
The 54-year-old was arrested in May when 74 people were left living in her orphanage before they were transferred to government and school facilities.
Many hailed the news of her sentence on Wednesday, but some felt it was not severe enough, according to the Global Times.
"No length of time is too long for her to be in prison as she took advantage of others' sympathy," a Weibo user named Chen Xuanyu wrote.