NEW YORK—A hidden camera caught a private conversation between New York City comptroller John Liu and an undercover FBI agent posing as a Chinese businessman on August 17, 2011.
The video, among others, was shown as evidence on April 22, during the trial for Liu’s former campaign treasurer Jia (Jenny) Hou and fundraiser Xing Wu (Oliver) Pan at the federal courthouse in Manhattan. Both Hou and Pan are being charged with using straw donors to illegally obtain public matching funds for Liu’s campaign.
The backroom meeting between Liu and the undercover agent, John Chiue, took place during a staged fund-raising event for Liu’s mayoral campaign.
In the video, Pan and Hou review the contribution forms for the straw donors. When the two met at the event, Pan introduces her to the undercover agent. “This is Richard’s event,” he tells Hou, using Chiue’s undercover name. Chiue had clarified earlier that the term “Richard’s event” would be used to let Liu’s campaign know the money came from him.
When Liu arrives, he gives Pan a hug. Pan then motions toward the undercover agent, and tells Liu, “Tonight his event.”
Liu then takes Chiue into a private area where they sit together.
During earlier meetings with Pan, the undercover agent had said he wanted to have a meeting with Liu in order to clarify his own interests in using straw donors to give $16,500 to Liu’s campaign. The legal limit for individual donations is $4,950.
In the video, Chiue tells Liu, “It’s complex. The initial costs are too high,” referring to the difficulties of starting a business in New York.
Liu verbally acknowledges his concerns.
The undercover agent replies, “… well, you could help me out further down the road by placing a phone call.”
Liu answers with a firm “OK.”
The two then join the event for a toast to Liu’s mayoral campaign.
Prior to the meeting at the event, Chiue had made it clear that his only intention for donating to Liu’s campaign was to get Liu’s help to start a restaurant chain. “I just want somebody who can help me two or three years down the road,” Chieu said, on July 27, 2011.
During the same conversation, Pan affirmed several times that Liu knew it was Chiue’s event. “I tell him it’s all money from you,” he said at one point, referring to John Liu.
Pan said he would tell Liu “20 people donating $800 [each], but it’s all from Richard.”
The next piece of evidence presented to the courtroom was a recorded phone call between Pan and the undercover agent on Oct. 13, 2011. Chiue tells Pan he is concerned their activities to arrange straw donors could be exposed, and asks him for guidance.
Their conversation takes place after a newspaper article exposed problems with John Liu’s campaign finances.
“It should be OK,” Pan says. “Worst case, we just return the money,” he adds.
Pan says the straw donors know what to say if someone comes asking them. He then tells Chiue that, if anyone asks him, to just tell them he has nothing to say. He then reassures the agent that nobody would tell about his role in the illegal contributions.
Chiue then asks whether he can make more donations to the Liu campaign using straw donors, despite the attention on Liu’s campaign finances.
“In the future, is there a better way of doing this?” Chiue asks.
Pan tells him the best route is to create events at restaurants, like they did on August 17, 2011, and have Chiue pick up the bill.
Pan adds that John Liu would still know the money all came from him.
“I just want to make sure he knows me,” says the undercover agent, pressing Pan for better assurance.
Pan then says Liu knows Chiue. He says Liu doesn’t always give backroom meetings at fund-raising events—like Chiue was given at the August 17 fundraiser.