Defense-fund benefit held for NYC official's ex-campaign treasurer

Updated: 2013-10-31 08:26

By CAROLINE BERG in New York (China Daily USA)

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Defense-fund benefit held for NYC official's ex-campaign treasurer

Jenny Hou (right) interacts with a participant before a benefit held on Tuesday night to raise funds for her legal defense. Caroline Berg / China Daily

New York City Comptroller John Liu was one of about 250 supporters who attended a reception that raised just over $100,000 to benefit the Jenny Hou Defense Fund.

"She's gone through an injustice, she doesn't deserve this," Liu told reporters about Hou's experience in court. "We're supporting her every step of the way."

Hou was hired at age 24 to be treasurer for Liu's mayoral campaign. In 2012, she was arrested on charges of funneling illegal contributions to Liu's campaign via straw donors — people who illegally use other people's money to make a political contribution in their own names.

The 27-year-old has since been convicted of attempted wire fraud, obstruction of justice and making false statements, and was sentenced earlier this month to 10 months in prison.

"Some people have said the sentence wasn't that significant and so maybe [Hou] should just move on," Liu said. "[Hou] has moved on. In these two years she's been doing a lot of things; but she's not going to let this stand."

Hou appeared confident and calm at the reception Tuesday night, held on the second floor of the East Buffet & Restaurant in Flushing, Queens. Last week, she filed notice that she is appealing her criminal conviction and prison sentence for violating campaign finance laws, and will appeal to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"There was no evidence whatsoever in the record that she had any knowledge of any straw donor, of anyone giving money to anybody," Hou's attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, told China Daily. "Not one witness testified that she had such knowledge."

With this information in hand, Lefcourt said the judge gave the jury a "conscious avoidance" instruction to look into the possibility that Hou had looked the other way while this illegal business was being transacted.

"In fact, she always talked to the people who were providing donations about providing accurate information," Lefcourt said. "She never hid her head in the sand, and that was an inappropriate instruction [by the judge]."

In addition to Hou, her colleague and Liu campaign fundraiser Xingwu "Oliver" Pan, 47, was sentenced to four months in jail, and also plans to appeal his case. Liu has never been charged in the case, but the straw donor scandal damaged his credibility and persuaded the city's campaign finance board to deny him matching public funds, according to an article in the New York Daily News published this month.

Hou grew up in Beijing, and moved to the US when she was 11 years old to live with her parents, according to New York Daily News. Since she is not a US citizen, she is at risk of being deported back to China, but Hou told China Daily she is still waiting to talk to an immigration attorney on this matter.

"My family has been very, very supportive financially and emotionally," Hou said. "I used to be very independent when I was working for John and we didn't used to see each other a lot because I was very busy with work, but now we are very close."

Hou said she thinks now that she may have been naïve when she accepted the job with Liu.

"I received a lot of compliments from my former colleagues that I was very efficient, very confident, and I thought I was able to do a good job as a treasurer," Hou said. "I did the best I could, but the fact that I'm not experienced enough, the fact that I don't come from an accounting or legal background, I can't do anything to change that, but I guess I was still too confident."

The city comptroller and former mayoral candidate remains adamant that everyone who was involved in his campaign is innocent.

"There was never anything wrong with my campaign," Liu said. "There were maybe some imperfections, but nothing that no other campaign has gone through, and so give us a break already. This is ridiculous."