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Clinton donor fails to appear in court again

The mystery of Norman Hsu, the wealthy Clinton donor who turned out to be a fugitive from justice, took a bizarre twist yesterday when Mr. Hsu, who skipped out after pleading no contest in a California fraud case 15 years ago, disappeared yet again.
/ Source: The New York Times

The mystery of Norman Hsu, the wealthy Clinton donor who turned out to be a fugitive from justice, took a bizarre twist yesterday when Mr. Hsu, who skipped out after pleading no contest in a California fraud case 15 years ago, disappeared yet again.

Mr. Hsu, who turned himself in to the authorities last week and posted $2 million in cash as his bail, was to have appeared in Superior Court in California at 9 a.m. yesterday to hand in his passport and ask that his bail be reduced.

But with the judge, a deputy state attorney general, the news media and Mr. Hsu’s lawyer all waiting in a courtroom in Redwood City, Calif., Mr. Hsu was nowhere to be found.

“We do not know where he is,” said James Brosnahan, Mr. Hsu’s lawyer. “We hope he will be in court today.”

According to the state attorney general’s office, based on information from Mr. Hsu’s lawyer, Mr. Hsu arrived at the Oakland airport at 5:30 a.m. on a charter jet. From that point on, no one had any information on his whereabouts — or any they would reveal. Adding to the intrigue is that he may be on the run with his passport: Mr. Brosnahan said that he had sent an assistant to Mr. Hsu’s Manhattan condominium this week to retrieve it, but a 90-minute search proved fruitless.

“Next, we have to find Mr. Hsu,” Mr. Brosnahan told reporters outside the courtroom yesterday.

Deepening woes
Should Mr. Hsu turn up, he will be in deeper legal trouble than before. Judge Robert D. Foiles of San Mateo County Superior Court ordered Mr. Hsu’s bail revoked, issued a new warrant for his arrest and said that if Mr. Hsu was arrested again, he would go directly to jail.

His disappearance added to an already embarrassing episode for Democrats, and especially the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, which had enlisted Mr. Hsu as a “Hillraiser” — a major bundler of donations from others. But last week came the revelation that Mr. Hsu was a fugitive, having skipped out on a California sentencing hearing related to a business fraud case and moved back to Hong Kong.

Yesterday, the Clinton campaign called for Mr. Hsu to turn himself in.

“We believe that Mr. Hsu, like any individual who has obligations before the court, should be meeting them, and he should do so now,” the Clinton campaign said in a statement.

Even those who had initially defended Mr. Hsu when his legal problems became public were baffled. Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who is president of the New School in New York City, where Mr. Hsu was a trustee, could not explain Mr. Hsu’s behavior.

“I don’t know what is going on in his mind,” Mr. Kerrey said. “I thought that I knew him, but obviously I didn’t.”

Mr. Brosnahan did not return calls for further comment, and Mr. Hsu’s spokesman at the California public relations firm of Sitrick & Company had no additional information to offer.

Not a flight risk
Ralph Sivilla, a deputy California attorney general, said the government had believed that Mr. Hsu was not a flight risk, based on the amount of his bail, his promise to relinquish his passport to the court and the fact that he had turned himself in.

“Those circumstances had seemed to suggest that he was not a flight risk,” Mr. Sivilla said. “There was something hanging over his head. There were things in place.”

When asked whether he thought Mr. Hsu had left the country, Mr. Sivilla said, “I would imagine he has the capability.”

Mr. Sivilla defended his office’s handling of the case, and said discussions were under way about trying to find Mr. Hsu, but that he was not at liberty to comment further on the search or on who was involved in the discussions.

“Am I surprised?” asked Mr. Sivilla, pausing for a moment. “It’s disappointing.”

Mr. Hsu’s disappearance deepens the mystery surrounding much of his life since he vanished 15 years ago. For part of the 1990s, he was in Hong Kong, where he managed a garment company, before returning to New York and living in California and New York.

The Justice Department is looking into Mr. Hsu’s fund-raising activities. One unknown is the source of his money. In campaign finance reports, he lists companies related to the apparel industry, but efforts to verify his involvement in them have been fruitless. An address he gave for his office in New York appeared to be little more than a mail drop, and people who work nearby said they had rarely seen him.

Since word of Mr. Hsu’s fugitive status became known, Democratic candidates have been rushing to rid themselves of Mr. Hsu’s money — among them Senator Barack Obama of Illinois; Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York; Al Franken, the comedian and political commentator who is a Minnesota senatorial candidate; and Representatives Michael M. Honda and Doris Matsui of California.

Since the 2004 election cycle, Mr. Hsu personally contributed $600,000 to Democrats around the country and raised hundreds of thousands more, frequently holding fund-raising parties and getting his picture taken with prominent politicians.

Mike McIntire contributed reporting.