MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — Prosecutors have refused to drop charges against a Buddhist nun who says she was arrested while handing out prayer beads to raise money for her burned-down temple.
An attorney for Baojing Li, 48, asked a Midtown Community Court judge to dismiss the case Thursday "in the interest of justice."
Instead, she was offered the chance to serve just one day of community service. She turned down the deal.
Lawyer Robert Brown said Li was not selling the 50 cent beads for profit, but collecting donations for her wrecked house of worship in the Atlanta, Ga. area.
The beads were handed to supporters, including those who slipped cash into her collection tin at the corner of Mott and Canal streets where she was arrested on June 2.
Judge Richard Weinberg said he couldn't drop the charges without the DA's consent.
"I can't do that," the judge said, although he offered to recommend the DA's office take a closer look at the circumstances.
Prosecutors filed a criminal complaint Thursday against the spiritual leader, who has a shaved head and wears a long religious robe, charging her with a misdemeanor for acting as an unlicensed vendor.
They said Li had a a satchel full of "more than 20 pieces" of "costume jewelry" she was selling for profit without the proper vendor's license from the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Brown, who is representing Li pro bono, said his client was treated in a way that no other clergy would have been.
"If this was a Catholic nun in a habit giving out rosary beads, I can't imagine a police officer in the City of New York arresting her," Brown said.
She came to New York "because of the large Chinese population" after her home and temple in Chamblee, Ga., was destroyed in a March 26 fire.
Brown said he's hopeful investigators will review the merits of the case and decide not to proceed with the prosecution.
"My goal is to get them to review the case and dismiss it on the next court date," he said.
Li, through her attorney, turned down the offer of one day of community service in exchange for a disorderly conduct, non-criminal guilty plea.
The DA's office had no immediate comment. Li is next scheduled to appear in court on July 18.