Jurors in the campaign-finance corruption trial of two aides to New York City Comptroller John Liu Monday heard Liu toast an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a corrupt donor as a "wonderful person" on a secretly recorded audiotape.
Agent John Chiue, who was posing as a Texas restaurant promoter named "Richard Kong," testified that the tape was recorded at a 2011 Chinatown fundraiser that he paid for with illegal donations through straw donors arranged by Liu aide Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan.
"I want to thank my brother Oliver for making tonight's arrangements and introducing me to wonderful person Richard Kong," said Liu, who had just met privately with the agent. "We just had a nice discussion about what . . . he would like to do for New York City. I think it's a great idea and looking forward to making sure that happens."
Pan, 47, a New Jersey businessman who raised money for Liu, and former campaign treasurer Jia "Jenny" Hou, 26, are charged with conspiring to use straw donors -- stand-ins whose names are used in place of an actual donor -- to evade contribution limits and illegally obtain matching funds from the city.
Liu -- who, Chiue testified, was the target of the investigation -- has denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme, and he has never been charged. But the charges and trial have complicated his campaign for the Democratic mayoral nomination this year.
Despite the toast, there was no clear evidence on audio or videotapes that Liu knew about the straw donor scheme. When Pan introduced Liu to "Kong," he said, "Tonight his event" -- a phrase, defense lawyers say, that Liu may have believed meant that Kong brought together donors giving their own money.
In the private meeting, "Kong" pressed for future favors, but Liu was noncommittal.
When the agent said Liu might help him with a phone call some day and he'll be bringing jobs to New York, Liu responded, "That's right, good."Chiue testified that he hoped to have a second meeting with Liu, but the plug was pulled on the undercover operation in October -- just after a newspaper expose on Liu's fundraising. The FBI tried to recruit Pan as an informant against Liu, Pan's lawyers say, and charged him when he refused.