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FBI agent testifies in trial of Liu aides

Jia "Jenny" Hou leaves Manhattan federal court, where she has been charged with funneling illegal donations to city Comptroller John Liu's campaign. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
TimesLedger Newspapers

A secretly recorded video showing city Comptroller John Liu at a fund-raiser was shown in federal court this week during the trial of the lawmaker’s former aides who are accused of funneling illegal contributions to his mayoral campaign.

Jia “Jenny” Hou, the former treasurer for Liu’s campaign, and Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan, a former fund-raiser, are facing charges of using straw donors — contributors designed to conceal the true source of money — to attract donations above the maximum allowed by the city Campaign Finance Board. Liu has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has fiercely defended his fund-raising practices.

The undercover agent who recorded the video took the stand in Manhattan federal court this week, along with other witnesses with ties to the campaign.

FBI Special Agent John Chiue explained in his Texas drawl how he posed as Houston businessman Richard Kong during several recorded conversations with Pan.

In those recordings, Chiue said he wanted to expand into the New York City restaurant business and was looking to financially support Liu beyond the comptroller’s self-imposed contribution limits.

Liu’s campaign had set a donation limit of $800 per person, but after several conversations, Chiue allegedly handed Pan an envelop containing $16,500 during a recorded encounter shown in court Monday. Prosecutors allege that Pan then arranged for nearly 20 people he later reimbursed to fill out donation forms.

Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Jacobs, Chiue described going to a hair salon in August where he said Pan asked the owner to fill out a contribution form.

Chiue also recalled an incident at an Aug. 18 fund-raiser where he saw Pan allegedly reimburse another donor.

“I saw Mr. Pan hand the individual some cash,” Chiue said.

Just before the event started, the video showed Hou looking through all of the contribution forms that were allegedly provided by Pan and Chiue, while Liu was later captured conversing with Chiue about business and his mayoral aspirations before dinner.

Pan told Liu the dinner was “Richard’s event,” a phrase Pan had previously said would suggest that Chiue provided all of the cash. But the defense disputes that claim.

A lawyer for Pan, Irwin Rochman, sought to emphasize that Pan did not actively push the alleged straw donor scheme. Instead, Rochman repeatedly suggested Chiue was the driving force behind the plot, eventually convincing Pan to arrange the donations after winning his friendship.

Later in the week, an ex-boyfriend of Hou’s testified she offered to reimburse him for a $500 donation to the campaign, The New York Times reported. Thomas Wang, 26, who ultimately did not contribute, testified on the condition he would not be prosecuted, the Times said.

Jian Kang Chen, the owner of a construction company, testified he arranged for six of his workers to donate $800 in exchange for being reimbursed by the campaign, according to the Times.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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