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Top fundraiser indicted on fraud charges

Prosecutors say Norman Hsu swindled investors out of millions of dollars and made illegal donations to politicians, including Hillary Clinton.
Democratic Fundraiser
Norman Hsu, 56, is escorted into a Redwood City, Calif., courtorom, Friday, Sept. 21, 2007. Paul Sakuma / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Top Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu swindled investors out of millions of dollars and made illegal donations to the political campaigns of congressional and presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, prosecutors said.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Hsu on charges of cheating investors of at least $20 million. In a 15-count indictment, the government accused the 56-year-old clothing-industry entrepreneur of duping investors nationwide with a massive Ponzi scheme.

The government said Hsu also violated federal campaign-finance laws by making contributions to various political candidates in the names of others. A message left with a lawyer for Hsu was not immediately returned.

Federal prosecutors said Hsu hoped his lavish campaign contributions would help draw money to his scheme by raising his public profile. To achieve his aims, prosecutors said, Hsu pressured many of his victims to contribute thousands of dollars to various candidates.

Hsu was once a valued supporter of Clinton, raising more than $1.2 million for her and other Democratic candidates in recent years. He turned into a scandal when it was revealed he had been hiding from the law in plain sight.

He had been wanted in California since 1992, when he fled after pleading no contest to grand theft charges in a fraudulent clothing import business. He posted $2 million bail in August, and his lawyer said his fugitive status was just a misunderstanding. But Hsu missed a court date Sept. 5, fled by train and was arrested at a Colorado hospital after attempting suicide.

Hsu's work on Clinton's behalf has been an embarrassment for her presidential campaign, which has returned more than $800,000 to donors whose contributions were linked to him.

The indictment said that from 2000 through August 2007, Hsu persuaded his victims to invest at least $60 million in companies that supposedly extended short-term financing to businesses.

It said Hsu used the money instead to further his fraudulent aims, sometimes paying the large interest gains he had promised to those who had invested earliest in the scheme. Prosecutors said he eventually cheated investors out of at least $20 million.

Norman Hsu
*FILE**Norman Hsu, right, prepares to surrender as he arrives with spokesman Jason Booth, center, and attorney Somnath Raj Chatterjee, left, at a San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., in this Aug. 31, 2007, file photo. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign said Monday, Sept. 10, 2007 it will return $850,000 in donations raised by Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu, who is under federal investigation for allegedly violating election laws. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)Paul Sakuma / AP

The government said he also broke election laws by contributing more than $25,000 to federal candidates in the names of others in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The indictment said Hsu asked individuals to make contributions to designated federal candidates and then reimbursed them from his fraud proceeds.

Federal election law requires that donors give their own money, for which they cannot be repaid; in addition, an individual can only give up to $25,000 in total contributions to federal candidates in a calendar year.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia has said there was no evidence that any campaigns were aware of the scheme or acted criminally. He said the Clinton campaign was cooperating with the investigation.

Hsu faces six counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud and three counts of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the fraud charges, and five years on each of the federal campaign-finance charges. He also could face millions of dollars in fines.

Hsu is in custody in California on unrelated charges and was expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan in several weeks, prosecutors said.