By Joe Anuta
Prosecutors tried to convince a jury Tuesday that two former campaign aides to city Comptroller John Liu knowingly tried to steer illegal donations to the lawmaker’s war chest for his then unannounced mayoral campaign.
In opening arguments in Manhattan federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Jacobs contended that Jia “Jenny” Hou and Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan “conspired to hide the true sources of campaign contributions and to obtain thousands of dollars in improper matching contributions,” The New York Times reported.
But two lawyers representing the accused maintained separately that their clients were innocent. Irwin Rochman, a lawyer for Pan, said an undercover federal investigator posing as a wealthy donor “induced” and “created” Pan’s behavior, according to The Times, while Hou’s lawyer said the former aid had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.
Prosecutors have accused the pair of using straw donors to pump money into Liu’s coffers by circumventing election laws. “Straw donor” is a term used to describe a fake donor whose name is used to conceal the identity of the money’s source.
For example, the undercover agent wanted help donating $16,000 to Liu’s campaign, which is above the legal limit of $4,950.
In the original indictment, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused Pan and Hou of concocting a slew of fake donors to satisfy the request.
Liu himself has not been implicated, and according to The Times report will probably not be called as a witness.
But that has not stopped the former Flushing city councilman from becoming increasingly vocal about the investigation, which has been going on since 2009 and may drag through much of his campaigning season.
The candidate has told multiple news outlets that Bharara’s office needs to “put up or shut up,” and spoke with TimesLedger Newspapers earlier this year about the trial.
“It’s been somewhat surreal,” he said at the time. “We have nothing to hide, and I’m very proud of how we are conducting our fund-raising.”
Liu said his fund-raising policy has been the most stringent of all the candidates, since he does not take any money from individuals or businesses that do business with the city. He also initially established a limit of $800, since it is an auspicious number in Chinese culture, though he lamented that it became twisted in news reports as “some freaky Chinese scheme to get more straw donors.
“I don’t spend my days and nights figuring out who is behind this or what they are after,” Liu said of the investigation.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.