Trial Starts for Aides of Mayoral Hopeful Liu

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 but the trial could complicate his bid for higher office in what’s turning into a hotly contested mayoral race.

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 Liu’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 finances.

As the trial loomed, the 46-year-old Liu has not avoided the subject, sometimes joking that his nickname is “embattled comptroller.” He said Sunday at a candidates’ forum that he followed all campaign financing rules and a federal probe into his fundraising was a witch hunt.

“I have to raise funds. I wish I didn’t have to raise money, I wish I had as much money as Mike Bloomberg has. But I have to raise funds because I am about 9 digits short than what he has,” Liu said, according to NY Elects – 2013.