NEW YORK—The first day of trial began Monday for two campaign workers of John Liu, New York City comptroller and Democratic candidate for mayor, at the Federal District Court in Manhattan.
In the morning, the matter of key witness Sharon Lee was discussed. In the afternoon, jury selection got underway for what Judge Richard Sullivan expects will be a three-week trial.
Liu’s former treasurer, Jia (Jenny) Hou, and a former fundraiser, Xing Wu (Oliver) Pan, are standing trial together.
Hou is being charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, attempted wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to an FBI agent.
Hou is being accused of defrauding the city of matching campaign funds through the use of straw donors, people who were asked to make contributions to skirt the city’s contribution limits, and promised reimbursement later.
The government’s complaint against Hou details allegations of her instructing campaign volunteers to imitate the handwriting of campaign donors on donor contribution forms, instructing campaign volunteers not to accept consecutively numbered money orders, and her impeding the government’s investigation of the matter.
Pan allegedly agreed to help an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agent illegally funnel thousands of dollars into Liu’s campaign funds.
Sharon Lee, a key government witness, was discussed with the judge by the plaintiffs (the government) and the defendants’ attorneys. Lee was a public face for Liu’s mayoral campaign and was one of his fundraisers, and is expected to testify against Hou.
Both sides agree that Lee admitted to soliciting donations for Liu’s campaign from her friends and family in California, and offering them reimbursement. The government believes her actions are incriminating against Hou.
Attorneys for the defendants argued that Lee’s testimony should not be admitted, because while Lee solicited donations from her mom and aunt, and offered to reimburse them, she never went through with the reimbursements. “There is no direct evidence” to connect Lee’s actions to Hou, one of the attorneys said.
Attorneys for the government argued that Lee spent a week at Hou’s residence to discuss the campaign, right before she went out to solicit the funds, and this makes the testimony relevant to the trial. “How is it not relevant to understand that conspiracy?” asked one of the government prosecutors.
The judge declared that Lee’s testimony will be relevant, as her actions showed the campaign was willing to reimburse donations and use straw donors. He added there is circumstantial evidence pointing out that Lee’s actions could be seen in the context of planning and coordination with Hou. The timing matches up, the judge added.
Liu has been under federal investigation since 2009, when he was running for New York City comptroller.
On Oct. 28, 2009, The Epoch Times reported that some addresses listed on Liu’s campaign finances did not match up. The Epoch Times visited 15 addresses listed on Liu’s financial disclosures—six answered their doors, and three confirmed that nobody under the names listed by Liu lived at the addresses.
The New York Times did a similar investigation in 2011, as Liu was raising funds for his mayoral campaign, and also found people listed as his donors who said they did not give money. The New York Times also found that Liu failed to list names of bundlers.