A D.C. Superior Court judge, saying "the chickens have come home to roost," yesterday sentenced Shao Ti Hsu, a 66-year-old engineering professor and one of the Washington area's most controversial landlords, to a minimum of 20 months in prison on a perjury conviction.
Hsu was cited in recent years for repeated housing code violations and thousands of dollars in fines when he owned numerous apartment buildings for lower-income tenants in the District and Prince George's County, but was always released from custody after he paid fines or had sentences suspended or overturned.
He will now have to serve a prison sentence for the first time in his many confrontations with the criminal justice system, according to his lawyers.
"The chickens have come home to roost--and the chickens have been out there a long time," said Judge Peter H. Wolf in handing down the sentence of 20 months to seven years in prison.
Wolf called Hsu "a white collar criminal" and "a person to whom the end justifies the means, certainly when it comes to money." But "as President Nixon found out," Wolf said, "there comes a time when a person has to draw the line."
Hsu's perjury conviction stemmed from his testimony during a 1976 court hearing involving his responsibilities for one of his properties in southeast Washington.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David S. Krakoff had argued yesterday that Hsu, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maryland, "has not learned a thing" from his previous convictions for housing and fire code violations and that the fines he was ordered to pay "meant nothing to him."
"If you put me in jail, I might die," the small, bespectacled professor told the judge. He said he had fainted twice during the three weeks he spent in the D.C. jail awaiting his sentencing.
He also said that if he were jailed he would lose his professor's post at the University of Maryland and that "my family will have difficulty carrying on, my family will collapse." Hsu's son and daughter were in the courtroom for the sentencing.
Hsu's attorney, Jeffrey Lee Greenspan, had asked the judge to place Hsu on probation and to require him to perform community service. Greenspan said that because of Hsu's health and age "Lorton Reformatory is not the place for Dr. Hsu." Greenspan said in court that he plans to appeal the conviction. He asked that Wolf allow Hsu to remain free on bond pending an appeal, but Wolf denied the request.
Wolf said that he would seek placement for Hsu in a federal facility where he can get adequate care for a man of his age and health status. Greenspan said Hsu suffers from high blood pressure.
Hsu once had extensive land holdings in the metropolitan area and came repeatedly into public view when many of his tenants claimed in court that he failed to provide safe and adequate housing. Some of their complaints included faulty plumbing, exposed electrical wires, roach infestation, trash and debris in halls, holes in walls and inoperative alarm systems. Hsu often responded by blaming the tenants for the problems.
"Truly Hsu's refusal to provide safe, habitable housing touched thousands of people in this city," Krakoff said in a presentence memorandum to the court.
In papers filed for a 1976 court appearance, Hsu's net worth was put at over $3 million, including seven cars. His annual income was put at $237,500.
But his real estate empire began to crumble in the late 1970s with one apartment complex after another going to foreclosure, and by 1980 he was evicted from his $300,000 Potomac home for failure to pay creditors. The house was sold at auction to help satisfy claims of more than $900,000 that creditors sought from several dozen court judgments.
Hsu's rental license in Prince George's County was suspended in 1981. He no longer owns properties in the District, according to Greenspan, and recently reported his net worth to the court as minus $300.
Hsu's perjury conviction stemmed from his denial at a 1976 court hearing that he had received a court order to make improvements at a property at 3281 15th Pl. SE. It was later established in court that he had in fact been served with the order. The verdict was later overturned on appeal and the case remanded for retrial. Hsu was again found guilty of the perjury charge last March, and Wolf ordered him held without bail pending sentencing.