A former fundraiser for New York City Comptroller John Liu told an undercover FBI agent that Liu "got the hint" about an illegal straw-donor scheme on secret recordings played for the first time Thursday at a corruption trial in federal court in Manhattan.
"I told him this whole event is yours," Liu fundraiser Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan told the agent, who had promised to secretly reimburse $16,000 to 20 donors at an Aug. 17, 2011, Chinatown campaign event. "So he should know. . . . You know? He got the hint."
Pan, 47, a New Jersey businessman, and former Liu campaign treasurer Jia "Jenny" Hou, 26, have been charged with trying to fraudulently obtain city matching funds given for up to $175 in contributions from small donors by funneling money from large donors through stand-ins, known as straws.
Hou and Pan say they have been wrongfully accused after being caught in an FBI sting that targeted Liu, but fell short. Liu has denied any knowledge of recruitment of straw donors, but the charges have burdened his campaign for the Democratic mayoral nomination this year.
FBI Agent John Chiue, a Chinese-American from Houston who spoke with a thick Texas drawl, testified that he fooled Pan into believing he was a big-talking restaurant promoter named "Richard Kong," who wanted to spread some money around to a New York City politician so he would have a friend in City Hall.
The tapes indicated that the courtship between "Kong" and Pan began in March 2011, that the agent was the one who first suggested using a straw donors -- whom he called nominees -- to funnel money to "JL," and that it took five months for Pan to agree to go along.
Two days before the fundraiser, according to the Aug. 15 tape of a phone call on which Pan said Liu "got the hint," he also assured "Kong" that he would be able to get a brief private meeting with Liu. But Pan was never explicit about exactly what he had told Liu.
"I cannot tell him how I organized, and this, and that," he said in the recording. "But, but, what I say this is your event. And he got idea. . . . Whatever you want to talk to him about is up to you."
Pan indicated on tapes that he had recruited the stand-ins, telling "Kong" to give him the cash to reimburse them, and urging "Kong" to destroy records after the event.
But he also showed little enthusiasm, telling "Kong" he was only arranging the scheme out of friendship. "Are you sure you wanna do this? Are you really comfortable?" he said on the Aug. 15 tape. "To tell you the truth, I do feel a bit, uh . . . uncomfortable."