For city Comptroller John Liu, the news only got worse last week when the U.S. attorney’s office arrested a young campaign staffer for alleged illegal fund-raising on behalf of Liu’s mayoral campaign. The question for Liu is no longer can he continue to campaign for mayor, but if he can weather the storm and finish his term.
In the most recent incident, campaign treasurer Jia “Jenny” Hou, 25, was charged with wire fraud and obstruction of justice for her alleged role in collecting 40 fraudulent donations. Hou is accused of helping Liu’s wealthy Asian-American backers evade the $4,950 limit on individual contributions by dividing their money among straw donors.
According to the criminal complaint, Hou instructed volunteers to forge signatures on donation cards and accept them in a manner to conceal that they were filled out by straw donors. Federal agents reportedly examined the signatures on the donor cards to see if they might have been filled out by the same person.
If convicted on all charges, Hou could face a 60-year prison sentence. No one expects that to happen, but Hou’s Facebook page lists her as a Beijing native who attended Rutgers University and currently lives in Flushing. A criminal conviction could result in deportation.
She is not the first Liu campaign staffer to be investigated. Earlier this year, Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan was indicted on charges of trying to use straw donors to contribute $16,000 to Liu’s campaign on behalf of an FBI agent posing as a wealthy donor.
We were happy to see Liu take a shot at the mayoral race because we respected his work as a councilman and comptroller. We understood what his campaign means to the city’s Asian Americans.
The evidence causes us to wonder if Hou understood the seriousness of what she is accused of doing. According to the city Campaign Finance Board, Hou was paid a meager $27,678 for her work on the Liu campaign between June 2011 to January 2012.
It is hard to believe Liu did not know Hou was instructing volunteers to forge signatures, if that is what happened. If Liu is innocent and did not know what his campaign staffers were doing, he needs to answer tough questions.