NEW YORK CITY — A former aide and a fundraiser for City Comptroller John Liu were both found guilty in federal court on Thursday of helping to concoct a straw-donor scheme to benefit Liu's campaign, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Donor Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan, 47, and former Liu campaign treasurer Jia “Jenny” Hou, 26, were accused of skirting campaign finance limits and defrauding the city of matching funds by setting up "straw donors" to Liu's campaign.
Those straw donors allegedly gave money in groups to Liu's campaign and were reimbursed at a later date by the real donors.
“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 press release.
"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."
Liu, who is running for mayor and was not named as a defendant in the case, continued to show support for his former treasurer.
"I’m deeply saddened by the turn of events today," Liu told reporters at a press conference a couple blocks from P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, after participating in a mayoral debate at the school Thursday evening. "I continue to believe that Jenny’s a good person and we will continue to ask the voters of this city for their support in my campaign to be mayor of New York City."
When asked about Pan, Liu repeated his defense of Hou. Liu added that he was proud of his record as a city concilman, comptroller and candidate for mayor.
"I’m proud of the way that my campaign has been conducted," Liu said. "I’ve always said that all along. This is an investigation that has been going on now for almost four years, including tapping my phones, interrogating thousands of my supporters. It is what it is. I’m moving forward with my campaign and at the end of the day, the voters of this great city will decide."
The two defendants were caught when an undercover FBI agent posed as a Texas businessman who wanted to meet the comptroller in 2011 and offered to donate $16,000 through straw donors, far above the $4,950 limit for individuals.
During closing arguments, lawyers for the two former Liu associates tried to persuade the jury that their clients were merely victims of a failed plot to trap the comptroller, according to reports.
Pan's lawyer, Irwin Rochman, referred to his client as "collateral damage."
“I don’t represent John Liu,” Rochman said, according to The New York Times. “I don’t give a damn about John Liu. But that’s what this case is. That’s how we got here. And they’re now struggling to make this a federal case. This case doesn’t belong in this courthouse.”
Pan was ultimately found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and attempted wire fraud, and Hou was found guilty of attempted wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction of justice. She was found not guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Pan now faces a maximum of 40 years in prison, and Hou faces up to 45 years, according to a spokeswoman from Bharara's office.