NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The trial of two former associates of a candidate seeking to become New York City’s first Asian-American mayor began Monday with jury selection in federal court in Manhattan.
City Comptroller John Liu has not been charged and is not expected to testify in the conspiracy case. But the trial could complicate his bid for higher office in what’s turning into a hotly contested mayoral race.
Opening statements could get underway later Monday at the trial, which comes less than two weeks after prosecutors in Manhattan unleashed one of their broadest attacks ever on political corruption by bringing conspiracy charges against a state senator, a state assemblyman and a city councilman, among others. The assemblyman was accused of trying to bribe his way onto the mayoral ballot.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has warned that political corruption had become “downright pervasive” in the state.
Liu’s ex-campaign treasurer, Jia “Jenny” Hou, and former Liu fundraiser Xing “Oliver” Wu Pan are facing federal charges of conspiring to break campaign finance laws. Federal prosecutors say the two circumvented a $4,950 contribution limit by using straw donors – people whose contributions are reimbursed by others – so they could boost the Democrat’s campaign war chest.
Liu commented on the judicial proceedings against his two former associates.
“The outcome of the trial will hopefully be true in terms of what has actually happened and what did not happen. But no matter what, my campaign for mayor goes full steam ahead,” Liu told reporters including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
Liu added he is happy the trial is here and said it should yield more information about the exhaustive four-year investigation into his campaign’s finances.
During jury selection, one potential juror told the court that she had donated to a campaign by Liu.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, the one question that drew the most lively responses was whether jurors had any negative opinions about the role money plays in political campaigns.
The hands of prospective jurors shot up. One woman said it’s an atrocity the billions that are spent in political races, but insisted she could be fair if selected.
Both Hou, of Queens, and Pan, of Hudson County, N.J., have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and attempted wire fraud; Hou also has pleaded not guilty to obstructing justice and making false statements. They have claimed they were caught in the cross-hairs of an overzealous investigation of Liu’s campaign finances.
The trial, likely to last several weeks, comes as campaigning gears up in the race to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who cannot run for a fourth term. Liu is considered a longshot in a field including front-runner City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and several Republicans.
As the trial loomed, the 46-year-old Liu has not avoided the subject, sometimes joking that his nickname is “embattled comptroller.”
Each count against Hou and Pan carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
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