Feds Tried to 'Manufacture' Case Against John Liu, Fundraiser's Lawyer Says
U.S. DISTRICT COURT — A lawyer for embattled Comptroller John Liu’s former fundraiser, Oliver Pan, accused the U.S. District Attorney's office Tuesday of trying to force Pan to help "manufacture" a case against Liu, a former rising star whose political future has been rocked by allegations of campaign finance fraud.
In an appearance in federal court, Pan’s attorney, Irwin Rochman, called for the case against his client to be thrown out of court, citing “outrageous government conduct” in the way prosecutors collected evidence and built their case.
Rochman alleged prosecutors had dealt with Pan in a “highly improper manner” and said they had “forced him to help the government manufacture a case against Mr. Liu.”
While Rochman acknowledged that there was no precedent for tossing a case on those grounds, he said "the facts here are so unique and so disturbing” that’s precedent doesn’t apply.
Outside of the courthouse Rochman’s declined to expand on his charges, but said they will be spelled out in a motion filed by Sept. 10.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
The allegations came during a hearing attended by Pan and Liu’s former campaign treasurer, Jenny Hou. Both have pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from their alleged participation in a campaign finance scheme in which donors were allegedly able to illegally funnel large sums of money into Liu's campaign by using straw donors.
All sides agreed to a trial start date of Feb. 4, 2013 — smack in the middle of the 2013 mayoral campaign season, a race that Liu has indicated he still intends to run. Judge Richard Sullivan said he expects the trial to last for at least two weeks.
The two members of Liu’s former inner circle appear to be plotting very different defense strategies ahead of the trial.
As Rochman was calling for the case to be tossed, Hou’s lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, pressed the judge for more time to review the mountains of evidence in the case, which he said includes a whopping 11,000 conversations, including thousands of intercepted emails and instant message chats as well as numerous hours of wiretaps and surveillance footage.
“We need more time to go through the gigabytes that we have,” said Lefcourt, who also complained that he hadn't been given access to certain evidence, including boxes of documents and the names of the alleged straw donors who are accused of illegally funneling money to the campaign.
He also said he intends to file a motion asking for Hou and Pan to be tried separately. That could make it easier for him to argue, for instance, that the scheme existed, but that Hou was in the dark.
Hou, who faces up to 60 years in prison, appeared in court Tuesday wearing a white-striped periwinkle dress and matching blazer, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked relaxed and confident as she walked out of the courthouse clutching her purse and an American Eagle Outfitters bag, and stopped to chat with the press.
“I feel pretty good!” she told reporters, smiling widely. “Thanks for coming! Thanks for coming!"
Pan, who appeared more somber, mouthed “Thank you” to reporters, but declined to speak.
Liu, who had once been considered a top contender for mayor, has repeatedly denied the allegations and said he is "proud" of his campaign’s fundraising efforts.
He continues to pursue a 2013 run.