By Joe Anuta
City Comptroller John Liu was the guest of honor at two headline-grabbing fund-raisers this week, but he also schmoozed at a less-publicized dinner with Flushing’s Chinese community days the night before his former campaign treasurer was indicted on federal wire fraud charges.
Jia “Jenny” Hou, 25, was indicted Friday on fraud charges, just one day after Liu held a fund-raiser in Flushing, although it was unclear whether he was planning to run for mayor or comptroller again.
The Beijing native was charged by a grand jury with using fake donors to funnel illegal campaign contributions into Liu’s war chest. Hou was placed on the same indictment as Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan, who prosecutors also allege collected illegal donations for Liu.
Both Hou and Pan pleaded not guilty Monday in Manhattan federal court.
The news of Hou’s indictment came the morning after Liu held a fund-raiser at the banquet room of Queens Crossing, at 136-17 39th Ave., where he used forceful language to describe an ambiguous election next year..
“We’re going full-speed ahead,” Liu told a group of more than 100 supporters. “We’re not going to let up until we win next year.”
The mostly Chinese-speaking crowd — which included Flushing business bigwigs like Michael Lee, of F&T Group, the company that built Queens Crossing, and Timothy Chuang, a former board member of the Flushing Chinese Business Association — repeated a cheer that roughly translated to “John Liu, get elected!”
Diners had no idea about the impending indictment, but the speakers noted that Liu has been under increased scrutiny since the fall after a New York Times report called some of Liu’s campaign donations into question.
Shortly afterward, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan announced the arrest and indictment of Pan for allegedly offering to funnel $1,600 to Liu’s campaign for a man who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
“Despite all the negative press he has received since October, I want all of us to be comforted by our resolve,” said Hugh Mo, the former deputy commissioner of the NYPD, before directly addressing Liu at the Flushing dinner. “We have faith … we are proud you are the first Asian-American elected to citywide office.”
Liu also acknowledged that the early phases of his campaign have been fraught with controversy and were not likely to get easier.
“Next year’s election is going to be very, very challenging,” Liu said. “Whatever difficulties we have had, I think they are just warming up.”
His words rang true as he was back in the headlines the next morning.
Hou faces 65 years in prison if she is convicted. But at another Liu rally Monday night in Harlem her lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, proclaimed her innocence and urged diners to donate to her legal defense fund.
Liu appeared at a benefit dinner again Tuesday night in Jackson Heights.
It has been widely speculated that prosecutors were trying to work their way up the food chain in Liu’s campaign, but in early April the comptroller called on Bharara to prove the allegations that have been swirling since the story broke last year.
“If there’s anything that my campaign is guilty of, or my supporters or my staff or, by extension, me — then prove it,” he said in a television interview.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.