By Philip Corso
City Comptroller John Liu was outraged that his former aides were sentenced in Manhattan federal court to prison terms for soliciting illegal campaign donations in support of his failed run for mayor.
Former campaign treasurer Jia “Jenny” Hou, 27, found guilty in May of attempted wire fraud, obstructing justice and making false statements to authorities, was given 10 months in prison by Federal Judge Richard Sullivan Oct. 3. Fund-raiser Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan, 47, drew a sentence of four months behind bars for his conviction on conspiracy to commit wire fraud and attempted wire fraud.
The outgoing comptroller used harsh language in reaction to the sentencing, saying prosecutors had a vendetta against his name.
“For reasons I may never fully understand, the U.S. attorney’s office set out to destroy me with what has been described as an extraordinarily intrusive and exhaustive investigation,” Liu said. “Failing to find that I had done anything wrong, they proceeded to set up a weak man and a wonderful young woman.”
It was still a better outcome than their maximum sentences suggested, as Hou faced up to 45 years in prison and Pan faced 40. Both Hou and Pan, however, planned on appealing their sentences, both their attorneys said.
Liu, who was not charged with any wrongdoing, maintained his innocence throughout the investigation, which even went as far as tapping his phones. The former mayoral hopeful from Flushing staunchly opposed the federal judge’s sentencing of his one-time treasurer in a statement.
“Jenny Hou does not deserve this ordeal and injustice she has been put through,” Liu said. “I am very sad but even more angry at what has occurred. The U.S. attorney’s office was wrong and should not be proud of its conduct.”
Both aides were found to have a hand in a scheme to set up straw donors, or people who fund campaigns on someone else’s behalf in order to evade donation limits so that Liu’s mayoral campaign could obtain matching funds from the city, which offers $6 to candidates for every $1 donated by city residents up to $175.
“As the jury found, Jia Hou and Oliver Pan stuck a knife into the heart of New York City’s campaign finance law by violating the prohibition against illegal campaign contributions, all to corruptly advantage the campaign of a candidate for citywide office,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement at the time of their conviction. “Cases like this give the people of New York yet another reason to be troubled by the electoral process, and they have a right to demand fair, open and honest elections untainted by cynical subversion of campaign finance laws.”
In the weeks before the mayoral primary Sept. 10, the city Campaign Finance Board ultimately ruled it would not be feeding Liu’s campaign with nearly $3.5 million in public matching funds. In the Democratic primary for mayor, which ultimately crowned city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio the nominee, Liu collected slightly over 7 percent of the vote, beating only former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who had less than 5 percent.