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Fund-Raiser Makes Plea of Not Guilty

Indicted Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia, left, and her attorney as they make a statement after Hsia turned herself in at U.S. District Court. (Ray Lustig/TWP)

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Campaign Finance Resurfacing in Senate (Feb. 20)

By Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 1998; Page A04

Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia proclaimed her innocence in a federal courtroom here yesterday, a day after a grand jury charged her with laundering illegal contributions from a California Buddhist temple to the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection effort and other Democratic campaigns.

"I have done nothing wrong, and I am prepared to fight," said Hsia after entering a not guilty plea to the six-count indictment.

Hsia, 47, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, is charged with laundering campaign contributions from the Hsi Lai Temple of Hacienda Heights, Calif., which is prohibited from making such donations because it is a nonprofit religious organization. The temple, formally known as the International Buddhist Progress Society, was cited as an unindicted co-conspirator.

From mid-1993 until 1996 Hsia and the temple, the indictment charges, defrauded the Federal Election Commission by enlisting nuns, monks and others associated with the temple to make campaign contributions and then reimbursing them with temple funds. In the most politically controversial episode cited in the indictment, Hsia allegedly raised $55,000 from so-called "straw donors" the day after Vice President Gore appeared at the temple on April 29, 1996.

Gore has insisted that he had no direct knowledge of fund-raising activities connected with the 1996 temple event. "It had nothing to do with me," Gore said Wednesday of the indictment.

Hsia's indictment is the second case brought by the Justice Department's 16-month-old investigation of alleged fund-raising abuses in the 1996 campaign, and Attorney General Janet Reno said Wednesday that it marked "yet another step forward" in the inquiry.

At her arraignment yesterday morning, Hsia replied with a loud "not guilty" when U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman asked her how she would plead. Some Justice Department officials had expressed hopes that Hsia might cooperate with the investigation in a plea agreement, but neither Hsia nor her attorney, Nancy Luque, has given any sign of making a deal with prosecutors.

In setting conditions for her release on a $50,000 bond, prosecutors successfully demanded that Hsia turn in her passport and be barred from leaving the United States. Eric L. Yaffe, a Justice Department lawyer, argued that her extensive personal and business ties in Taiwan and China suggested a real risk that Hsia might try to flee. Yaffe said investigators considered the threat so real that Hsia had been under constant surveillance for several months.

Luque countered that Hsia has repeatedly postponed essential business trips to China and faces the prospect of seeing her business "destroyed by an inability to travel." As an immigration consultant, Hsia normally makes several brief trips a year to China to visit clients, Luque said.

Luque denied allegations in a draft report by Republicans on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that Hsia worked improperly to support the People's Republic of China. "She is certainly not an agent of the Chinese government," Luque said.

Hsia's trial is scheduled to begin April 27. If found guilty she faces a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for each of the six counts filed against her.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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