A fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee admitted yesterday to embezzling more than $360,000 donated to the organization.
Roger Chiang, 33, who was the outreach director for the committee, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of mail fraud and faces as much as 20 years in prison.
From August to early October, Chiang pocketed $360,475 in checks made out to the committee, according to prosecutors. The checks were then deposited by mail into an account he had set up at an Internet bank in the name of a nonexistent company with the same initials as the committee, DSCC.
Once a promising young figure in the Democratic Party, Chiang suffered through the death of his sister, and his attorney said yesterday that the very public loss of Chiang's sibling might have played a role in his downfall.
Joyce Chiang, 28, a government immigration lawyer, disappeared in January 1999 after being dropped off near her Dupont Circle apartment. Her body washed up along the Potomac three months later, too decomposed to determine a cause of death, and her brother waged a campaign to pressure police to figure out what had happened to her.
Defense attorney William R. Martin said after yesterday's guilty plea that the death of Joyce Chiang was among the troubles that might have led Roger Chiang to engage in a scheme so obvious that he was bound to be caught.
Chiang is scheduled to be sentenced June 2 by Judge Richard J. Leon, and Chiang's attorneys said they want to show what was going on in Chiang's mind when he carried out the fraud.
"We're hoping the judge will give him a second chance," Martin said outside U.S. District Court.
Answering a standard pre-plea inquiry about alcohol and drug use, Chiang told the court that he is taking antidepressants.
Chiang, who was released ahead of his sentencing, did not immediately emerge from the courthouse with Martin and co-counsel Mark Rothenberg, who said Chiang was being processed by the court.
Though Chiang faces a maximum of 20 years, the federal sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of two to three years, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Both Martin and the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah T. Chasson, said they will prepare extensively to fashion their sentencing recommendations to the court.
To the judge and to reporters afterward, Martin emphasized that the committee had recouped almost all of the stolen money. Chiang had withdrawn about $11,000 from the account; the rest of the donations were readily recovered.
The scheme was uncovered when a donor who had not received an acknowledgement of his contribution contacted the committee to inquire about the donation, according to prosecutors. A copy of the canceled check showed that it had been deposited at First Internet Bank of Indiana, the online bank where Chiang had set up the account.
The account was in Chiang's name, and investigators had no trouble tracking him down.