A former press secretary to Comptroller John Liu testified Wednesday that she offered to reimburse donors to his mayoral campaign in 2011, but her lawyer said it was not part of a grandiose "scheme" that federal prosecutors claim the campaign was orchestrating.
Sharon Lee, appearing at the trial of two Liu aides accused of a corrupt fundraising scheme, was warned by U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan that by testifying without immunity she risked prosecution, but she said she was ready to take the risk.
Lawyer Andrew Lankler said Lee offered to reimburse her mother, aunt and a couple of close friends -- without any coordination with the campaign -- as a fundraising deadline neared, to show them how important the campaign was to her personally, and she didn't want to lend support to prosecution claims.
"The reason we are testifying without immunity is that we participated in no way in an illegal 'straw donor' scheme of the likes being suggested by the government with respect to the campaign at large," he told reporters as Lee left federal court in Manhattan.
Liu fundraiser Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan and former campaign treasurer Jia "Jenny" Hou are charged with trying to defraud the city of campaign matching funds by arranging for wealthy donors to reimburse stand-ins whose names were put on disclosure forms.
The allegations have clouded Liu's campaign for the Democratic mayoral nomination. They arose out of an FBI undercover operation that targeted Liu. He was not charged and has denied knowledge of such a scheme.
Lee, a Liu deputy whose testimony will resume Thursday, said the campaign was trying to achieve a $1 million fundraising goal. She said she was helping complete July 2011 campaign filings in marathon sessions at Hou's apartment at the time of the solicitations. Prosecutors believe it shows Hou was part of a scheme involving top Liu aides.
In other testimony, the head of a Queens construction company testified he reimbursed several employees and associates for donations to Liu. He said he did it without consulting with the campaign.