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Hsia’s Fund-Raising Case Abruptly Heads for Jury

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The criminal trial of Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia rushed toward a speedy conclusion Monday after Hsia’s attorney decided against putting on a defense after three weeks of prosecution testimony.

Hsia, a Los Angeles immigration consultant, did not take the witness stand to defend herself against five charges of causing false reports to be filed with federal election officials. Her attorney, Nancy Luque, told jurors in her closing argument that the government had failed to prove Hsia did anything to cause inaccurate reports to be submitted by others.

“No witness told you that Maria Hsia caused them to tell a lie,” Luque said to the jury. “She never told anybody to break the law.”

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman planned to submit the case to the jury this morning after instructing them on applicable laws.

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Prosecutor John McEnany, in his own summation, said that Hsia engaged in a “conduit” scheme to raise tens of thousands of dollars from the Asian American community in California in 1995 and 1996 for the reelection of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

The most celebrated event in which she participated was raising more than $100,000 in connection with Gore’s visit to a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights in April 1996. Much of it eventually was returned by the Democratic National Committee as possibly tainted by election law violations.

By furnishing checks to the DNC from “straw party” donors who were reimbursed from other sources, Hsia was responsible for the committee’s filing of false reports on $55,000 of these donations with the Federal Election Commission, McEnany charged.

“One thing we can’t do is lie to a federal agency, submit a false statement or cause another person to do so,” he said.

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McEnany praised Hsia, 48, as “an extremely energetic and hard worker,” noting that “there is nothing wrong” with raising funds for political candidates, as she had done for years.

“But she found it necessary to commit criminal acts to maintain her fund-raising status,” he said.

Referring to a political dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel in 1995, the prosecutor reminded jurors of testimony from Peter Kelly, former California Democratic Party chairman, that Hsia furnished him with $10,000 in 10 checks written for $1,000 each.

“Of course, Maria Hsia never told him the so-called donors were not the true contributors,” said McEnany, declaring that illegal foreign sources had put up the money.

The prosecutor also alluded to testimony by John Huang, the Democratic committee’s former top-rated fund-raiser, that Hsia gave him an envelope with $55,000 in contributions a day after Gore visited the Hsi Lai temple. McEnany said that Hsia caused Huang to file false reports with the FEC by failing to tell him that the check-writers were reimbursed illegally from the temple’s treasury.

However, defense attorney Luque noted other testimony by Huang that Hsia, his longtime friend, never caused or encouraged him to violate any laws. Luque said that the election commission never asks for the source of donations other than the name of each donor.

“There is no question on any form saying, ‘Where did you get the money from?’ ” Luque told jurors.

Huang, the central figure in 1996 Democratic fund-raising abuses, pleaded guilty last August to a felony charge of conspiracy in connection with his activities.

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Since he has been cooperating with authorities, Huang, of Glendale, “had everything to gain by saying something bad about Maria Hsia,” Luque told the jury. “But he had nothing but glowing praise. He said she never did anything to get personal credit . . . but only to help the [Asian American] community.”

Referring to the central charge in the case, that Hsia gave Huang an envelope with $55,000 in bogus donations, Luque asked: “Can she know what’s in it? Can she know the names of the people who wrote the checks? And if she did, does that make her responsible for it?

“There’s no evidence that Maria Hsia ever saw any of those checks or that she knew the check-writers were reimbursed,” Luque said.

Even though Gore is not accused of any wrongdoing in the Hsia matter, the Buddhist temple fund-raiser has created potential problems for him in his presidential campaign. Gore first said that he believed the temple luncheon was a “community outreach” event but later amended his description to say that he knew it was “finance-related.”


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