Trial for Liu aides likely to drag well into city’s election season

Jia "Jenny" Hou, former aid to city Comptroller John Liu, leaves federal court in Manhattan after the judge postponed the trial due to her codefendant's illness. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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The trial for two aides to the city comptroller was delayed after one of them was forcefully hospitalized with an unspecified illness, news reports said.

Jia “Jenny” Hou and Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan, who worked on Liu’s fund-raising campaign for an unannounced but widely anticipated run for mayor, are facing federal wire fraud charges in Manhattan federal court. The trial was set to begin Monday, but last Friday U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan received information about the health of Pan, who was taken for a mental evaluation against his will, according to the Associated Press.

On Tuesday Sullivan adjourned the court until April 15, according to AP, but if an evaluation indicates Pan is fit to proceed with the trial, he reserved the right to begin earlier.

Pan and Hou are accused of employing straw donors — false donors used to conceal the real source of money — to funnel money into the campaign coffers of Liu. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The delay is not good news for the comptroller since the trial could likely drag well into the campaigning season for this year’s Democratic p rimary in the spring.

Liu discussed these implications during a recent sit-down interview with TimesLedger Newspapers.

“It’s been somewhat surreal,” he said. “We have nothing to hide, and I’m very proud of how we are conducting our fund-raising.”

To demonstrate his stringent methodology of gathering funds, he said the campaign did not accept contributions from anyone who does business with the city, nor anyone who is looking to do business with the city.

Liu also initially established a limit of $800, which is far less than the maximum donation of $4,950. The number was picked because the No. 8 is auspicious in Chinese culture, according to Liu.

But after The New York Times published an article in October 2011 detailing the federal investigation of Liu and his campaign, the comptroller said his self-imposed limit became twisted into “some freaky Chinese scheme to get more straw donors.”

As subsequent articles detailed the arrests of Pan and Hou, their indictments and the time leading up to their trial, it was also revealed that Liu’s cellphone had been tapped for more than a year, he said.

“I don’t spend my days and nights figuring out who is behind this or what they are after,” Liu said of the investigation.

He later dropped the $800 limit, and his campaign has been dogged by constant press coverage of the trial ever since. He has not been charged.

“It’s been a weird and wild feeling,” he said in late January. “I just hope they can resolve as quickly as possible.”

That does not look like it will be the case.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 8:48 pm, February 7, 2013
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