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Liu aides guilty of illegal fund-raising for his mayoral campaign

Jia "Jenny" Hou leaves the federal courthouse in Manhattan earlier this spring.
TimesLedger Newspapers
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Two former aides to city Comptroller John Liu were found guilty Thursday of soliciting illegal donations for his mayoral campaign in federal court in Manhattan.

Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan was convicted by a jury of both conspiring to commit wire fraud and attempted wire fraud and faces a maximum sentence of 40 years. Jia “Jenny” Hou was found guilty of attempted wire fraud, obstructing justice and making false statements to authorities and faces up to 45 years behind bars. She was not convicted on conspiracy charges.

U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan is set to sentence the pair Sept. 20

Liu has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his presence was on display during the two-week trial.

“I am deeply saddened by the verdict. I continue to believe in Jenny being a good person and exceptional individual,” the comptroller said in a statement, neglecting to mention Pan’s name.

Pan and Hou were involved in a scheme to set up straw donors — people who contribute to campaigns on behalf of someone else in order to circumvent donation limits — in order to obtain matching funds from the city of New York, which puts $6 into a candidate’s coffers for every $1 donated by city resident 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. “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.”

It was not known what impact the guilty verdicts would have on his campaign for mayor, but Liu vowed to fight on.

“I look forward to this year’s mayoral election and will continue to ask the voters for their support,” he said in a statement.

The case was in federal court because matching funds for the city’s program travel between banks across state lines. Irwin Rochman, Pan’s lawyer, and Gerald Lefcourt, Hou’s lawyer argued the case was actually a government witch hunt for Liu, and their clients never intended to steal from taxpayers.

But it took the jury only one day to find the pair guilty and gave Bharara yet another reason to call for reform of the political system in New York.

“With these convictions, it is our hope that some measure of the public’s confidence can be restored. We will continue our efforts to stamp out public corruption wherever we find it. We thank the jury for their time and service, and the outstanding prosecutors who so ably tried this case.”

Bharara’s office has announced the indictment of a string of politicians in recent months, including state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) in April.

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

Updated 5:35 pm, July 9, 2018
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