Gov’t has been wiretapping Liu since 2009 over contributions

Court documents show federal investigators have been investigating city Comptroller John Liu since 2009.
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Lawyers for two people charged with funneling illegal campaign contributions to City Comptroller John Liu’s war chest revealed Monday the government has been investigating Liu and his advisers since 2009 and contend “desperate” government agents have been targeting the campaign without producing any proof of wrongdoing.

Court briefs filed by lawyers for 26-year-old Jia “Jenny” Hou, former campaign treasurer for Liu, and campaign contributor Xingwu “Oliver” Pan, criticize the FBI’s investigation methods, which included wiretapping phones belonging to Liu and his advisers starting in 2010.

“The government’s investigation has used many tactics in the obsessive pursuit of John Liu. As each tactic failed to find evidence of criminal conduct, rather than abandon the quest, the government simply came up with a new tactic,” according to a memo filed by lawyer Gerald Lefcourt, Hou’s lawyer.

The memo was filed in an attempt to separate the two defendants’ cases, since they are being tried together. Hou’s lawyer is also seeking to have evidence collected from her e-mail account thrown out.

The FBI declined to comment on the case.

Liu has not been connected to any wrongdoing, but both Hou and Pan are accused of facilitating $10,000 in illegal contributions to Liu’s campaign. Prosecutors allege the two joined forces to use fake donors to funnel the money to Liu’s campaign, knowing the money came from a single person, who happened to be an undercover FBI agent.

In the memo, Pan’s lawyer alleges his innocence, saying the agent, known to him as Richard Kong, was the one who suggested using fake donors.

“Richard suggested that instead of trying to get 20 real donors, we use ‘nominees’ who would appear to be making $800 contributions in order to conceal that it was Richard who would be making a single large contribution in an amount I have learned was illegal,” Pan said through his lawyer in the memo.

The memo filed by Lefcourt on behalf of Hou detailed a history of the case, starting in 2009 when a longtime government informant put FBI agents on Liu’s trail.

The memo went on to allege the government, which he called “desperate” to make a case, began tapping phones of Liu and advisers, posed as campaign inspectors, tried to get Pan to finger others for wrongdoing before eventually obtaining e-mails from Hou’s account through questionable means.

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

Updated 3:50 am, September 13, 2012
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