Defense: Aides to John Liu innocent victims of prosecutors
Defense lawyers for two aides to New York City Comptroller John Liu argued in summations Wednesday that their clients were innocent victims of the "obsession" of the FBI and Manhattan federal prosecutors with trying to bring down Liu himself.
Irwin Rochman, the lawyer for former Liu fundraiser Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan, told the jury his client had probably broken state law by recruiting straw donors, but there was no evidence his goal was to defraud the city of matching funds, a necessary hook to make it a federal case.
"Mr. Pan is collateral damage in the government's obsessive pursuit of making a criminal case against John Liu," Rochman said. "That's how we got here, and they are now struggling to make this a federal case. This case does not belong here in this courthouse. Mr. Pan is not guilty of the federal crimes."
And Gerald Lefcourt, the lawyer for Jia "Jenny" Hou, said his client was an inexperienced young aide caught in the crosshairs of a 2-year-old investigation of Liu when she returned from a trip to China in 2011 and began working for his campaign. "This investigation starts in 2008," Lefcourt said. "She walks into this -- there's ten wiretaps, there's undercover operations, there's an obsession . . . with John Liu and she becomes treasurer. She's 24 years old! She was in college when this started!"
Pan, 47, and Hou, 26, are charged with being part of a Liu campaign straw-donor conspiracy. Hou is also charged with obstructing justice by lying and hiding documents. After a two-week trial that has clouded Liu's mayoral campaign, the case went to the jury late Wednesday.
Although they face similar charges, the cases against Pan and Hou are distinct. He was convinced by an FBI undercover agent to help funnel money to Liu through stand-ins at an August 2011 reception. The scheme was recorded on tapes, and Pan agreed to become an informant, but says he was charged because he was unable to gather evidence against Liu.
Pan has offered technical defenses -- that matching funds were a byproduct, not the scheme's goal, and that he was entrapped. Rochman said Pan saw the agent as a friend and agreed to the scheme to help the agent get a meeting with Liu, not to get matching funds for the campaign.
Hou, as treasurer, is accused of knowing that Pan recruited straw donors and that Queens businessmen had used straw donors to funnel money to Liu at a separate May 2011 reception. Prosecutors say she ignored "red flags" about what was going on, but Pan told the FBI he didn't know if Hou was aware of his use of straw donors, and all of the participants in the Queens event testified they misled her.