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Clinton Fund-Raiser Huang to Offer Guilty Plea

John Huang Democratic Party fund-raiser John Huang in 1996. He is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy to make illegal contributions. (AP File Photo)
By Edward Walsh and Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 26, 1999; Page A12

The Justice Department announced yesterday that John Huang, a key figure in the investigation of 1996 campaign finance abuses, has agreed to plead guilty to a single felony charge. The plea is part of an agreement that legal sources said promises that Huang will not be prosecuted in connection with his fund-raising activity for President Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign.

A one-count criminal charge was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accusing Huang of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws from 1992 through June 1994, before he moved to Washington and became a Commerce Department official and later a key fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee. According to the charge, the conspiracy involved a $2,500 contribution to the campaign of Michael Woo, a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles in 1993, and a $5,000 contribution to the California Victory Fund '94, a statewide Democratic Party committee.

In an announcement of the charge, the Justice Department said that Huang will make an initial court appearance in Los Angeles next week and is expected to plead guilty soon thereafter. The announcement said that because of Huang's "substantial cooperation" with federal investigators, prosecutors will not seek a prison term on the conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Throughout the campaign fund-raising investigation, Huang has been widely regarded as a potentially key witness who might be able to implicate senior officials at the DNC and possibly the White House in campaign finance law violations. The Justice Department said Huang has been cooperating with its campaign financing task force for several months. Sources familiar with Huang's cooperation said he has also been interviewed by lawyers from three independent counsel investigations, including Kenneth W. Starr's office.

The full scope of the information Huang provided federal investigators was not clear yesterday, but sources familiar with the substance of his interrogations said that he did not implicate Clinton, Vice President Gore or senior officials of the DNC in any wrongdoing in connection with the 1996 Democratic fund-raising effort.

Sources familiar with Huang's plea negotiations said the agreement calls for Huang to serve one year of probation, do 500 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine. The sources said the agreement includes a statement that Huang will not face other federal election law charges, effectively clearing him of wrongdoing in his role as a national fund-raiser for the DNC and the Clinton reelection committee.

At Huang's insistence, the plea agreement and yesterday's announcement also include a statement explicitly saying that there is no evidence that he violated espionage or national security laws.

"The United States is not currently aware of evidence which would support any charges of the relevant espionage or national security statutes," the Justice Department said in the statement. "However, the government remains free to bring charges should the evidence so warrant."

Last fall, the Justice Department signaled a shift in its handling of Huang when it began discussing with him a grant of immunity from prosecution not for testimony implicating higher-ranking officials but for testimony involving Maria Hsia, a California fund-raiser who played a minor though controversial role in 1996. Hsia is currently on trial on charges that she conspired to conceal illegal contributions from a Taiwan-based Buddhist organization following Gore's visit to a California Buddhist temple. The temple event was part of Huang's fund-raising drive in the Asian American community.

Huang is a former executive of the Lippo Group, a conglomerate based in Indonesia. Under federal law, foreign nationals and corporations cannot legally contribute to political campaigns. In August 1993, according to the charge filed yesterday, Huang arranged for the Lippo Group to reimburse $2,500 to Hip Hing Holdings, one of Lippo's U.S. subsidiaries, that the American firm had contributed to Woo's mayoral campaign.

In May 1994, according to the charge, Huang also arranged an illegal $5,000 contribution to the California Victory Fund '94. The Justice Department said some of this contribution was later shared with the 1994 reelection campaign of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the California Democratic Party.

In 1994, Huang was named a deputy assistant secretary of commerce. When the presidential reelection campaign got underway, he moved to the DNC as vice chairman for finance and became one of the party's leading fund-raisers. But following the 1996 election, the DNC returned $1.6 million raised by Huang because it came from foreign nationals or because the origin of the money was murky.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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