- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

A longtime fund-raiser for Vice President Al Gore was convicted Thursday by a federal jury in Washington, D.C., of concealing the source of $109,000 donated after a 1996 fund-raiser attended by Mr. Gore at a California Buddhist temple.
Maria Hsia, a Taiwan-born U.S. citizen, had been accused of hiding "the true sources of thousands of dollars of illegal contributions she solicited" from the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif., for the Democratic Party and the 1996 Clinton-Gore Re-election Committee.
Prosecutors said the California immigration consultant "made a conscious decision to undermine" federal electoral laws "to advance her own business and political interests" in an effort to gain access to Democratic politicians.
Hsia, who first began raising campaign cash for Mr. Gore more than 10 years ago, showed no emotion as the guilty verdict was read by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman here. The verdict came after three weeks of testimony and 10 hours of jury deliberation over three days.
She was convicted on five felony counts, each calling for a prison sentence of five years. Sentencing is pending, although a status hearing for defense motions was set for May 15.
Hsia's defense attorney, Nancy Luque, said: "The thing's still alive. It's not dead yet."
The verdict is certain to embarrass Mr. Gore, whose credibility concerning his role in fund-raising activities during the 1996 presidential campaign has vigorously been challenged by his Democratic rival, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, and by the main Republican candidates, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Campaigning in New York, Mr. Gore told reporters: "The jury has rendered its verdict. It's a hard day for her. She has been a friend and a political supporter, but since this matter is still in the courts I am not going to comment on it further."
Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which investigated campaign finances abuses, issued a one-sentence statement after the verdict: "I don't know who is more surprised, me or the Justice Department."
Mr. Thompson has been critical of the Justice Department's handling of the case, including a decision by Attorney General Janet Reno not to call for an independent counsel to investigate Mr. Gore.
Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which also investigated campaign abuses, said he was "disturbed" that the Justice Department sought to portray Mr. Gore and the Democratic National Committee "as victims in the Hsi Lai Temple fiasco."
Mr. Burton said he would be "watching the sentencing in this case very carefully," saying the department had sought "very light sentences for Democrats and severe sentences for Republicans who have committed similar crimes."
Hsia, 48, was named in an indictment handed up in federal court in February 1998. She was accused of conspiring to defraud the government and causing false statements on the source of contributions to be filed with the Federal Election Commission. The indictment said she used money belonging to Hsi Lai Temple to make illegal donations to federal, state and local candidates and their political committees.
The Buddhist temple, formally known as the International Buddhist Progress Society, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in connection with the illegal reimbursement to monks and nuns of about $65,000 in DNC contributions. The donations were considered "conduit" payments, meaning that those listed as donors were reimbursed by others, which is illegal under federal election laws.
As a tax-exempt religious organization, the temple is barred from making campaign donations.
Three Buddhist nuns told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 1998 that the temple reimbursed them and others for the DNC donations, which were made after Mr. Gore appeared at the April 29, 1996, event. They said that the day after the event, Hsia asked the temple to raise more cash to help Democratic fund-raiser John Huang reach his goals for the event. One temple official, Venerable Yi-Chu, asked several monastics to write $5,000 checks each, for which they were later reimbursed, the nuns said.
The indictment said several conduits posed as donors, including monks and nuns, temple volunteers, Hsia's clients and Hsia herself, although all were reimbursed with temple money.
Mr. Gore has had difficulty explaining why he attended the fund-raiser. Initially, he said the event was for community outreach. Later, when confronted with new evidence documents describing the event in advance as a fund-raiser the White House said the vice president had used "a poor choice of words."
The vice president's office then said he knew the event was "finance related" because top Asian-American contributors would be present but that he did not know campaign donations would be solicited.
During the trial, Huang, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and agreed to cooperate in the government probe, testified that Hsia gave him an envelope containing cash the day after Mr. Gore attended the temple event. Those donations later were reimbursed by the temple.
Hsia's attorneys had argued there was no evidence to show that their client knew of the reimbursements, although the government introduced canceled checks suggesting that on at least three occasions, from 1993 to 1996, Hsia used temple funds to reimburse her own political donations.
Hsia did not testify at the trial, although the jury was shown a videotape of Mr. Gore attending the Buddhist temple fund-raiser.
Charges against Hsia were dismissed last year by Judge Friedman, although they later were reinstated by a federal appeals court panel that said the judge erred in dismissing the five felony counts.

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