Trial starts for aides of NYC mayoral hopeful

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — The trial of two former associates of a candidate seeking to become New York City's first Asian-American mayor began Monday with jury selection in federal court in Manhattan.

City Comptroller John Liu has not been charged and is not expected to testify in the conspiracy case. But the trial could complicate his bid for higher office in what's turning into a hotly contested mayoral race.

The jury selection process took up the entire day on Monday. It was expected to continue Tuesday morning with opening statements possible in the afternoon.

Jurors were asked whether they had any opinions about Liu or the role of money in politics that would keep them from being impartial.

The trial comes less than two weeks after prosecutors in Manhattan unleashed one of their broadest attacks ever on political corruption by bringing conspiracy charges against a state senator, a state assemblyman and a city councilman, among others. The assemblyman was accused of trying to bribe his way onto the mayoral ballot.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has warned that political corruption had become "downright pervasive" in the state.

Liu's ex-campaign treasurer, Jia "Jenny" Hou, and former Liu fundraiser Xing "Oliver" Wu Pan are facing federal charges of conspiring to break campaign finance laws. Federal prosecutors say the two circumvented a $4,950 contribution limit by using straw donors — people whose contributions are reimbursed by others — so they could boost the Democrat's campaign war chest.

Both Hou, of Queens, and Pan, of Hudson County, N.J., have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and attempted wire fraud; Hou also has pleaded not guilty to obstructing justice and making false statements. They have claimed they were caught in the cross-hairs of an overzealous investigation of Liu's campaign finances.

The trial, likely to last several weeks, comes as campaigning gears up in the race to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who cannot run for a fourth term. Liu is considered a longshot in a field including front-runner City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and several Republicans.

As the trial loomed, the 46-year-old Liu has not avoided the subject, sometimes joking that his nickname is "embattled comptroller."

He told a candidates' forum on Sunday that "nothing's going to dissuade me from running for mayor this year, because I'm very proud of my campaign fundraising and the practices that I've adopted, and it's always been in full compliance with all the campaign finance rules."

Each count against Hou and Pan carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

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