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Maria Hsia Indicted In Campaign Finance Probe

Gore tries to put some distance between himself and a longtime friend

By Terry Frieden/CNN

hsia

WASHINGTON (Feb. 18) -- A woman who organized the controversial Buddhist temple fund-raiser at which Vice President Al Gore spoke was indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to defraud the government and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The Justice Department's Campaign Finance Task Force announced Maria Hsia [pronounced "Shaw"] was indicted on one count of conspiracy and five counts of false statements by a federal grand jury in Washington. The allegation is that corporate money belonging to the temple was used to make secret, disguised and illegal campaign contributions to federal, state, and local candidates and their political committees.

The 47-year-old Asian-American woman is expected to surrender Wednesday for arraignment in federal court in Washington.

Gore immediately tried to distance himself from the indicted Hsia. "Had nothing to do with me," Gore said as he toured the mudslide-ravaged area of Rio Nido, Calif., Wednesday. "The process will work its way through."

The allegations charge that Hsia and the Buddhist temple used people as "conduits" to make contributions to various campaigns and committees, including the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton/Gore 1996 re-election campaign, and re-election campaigns for Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994 and his son Rep. Patrick Kennedy in 1996.

The indictment says the temple reimbursed the campaign contributions of people who served as "conduits," including Hsia herself. The indictment alleges that the system of payments defrauded the FEC because the watchdog agency was given false information about the source on contributions, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) because it was not told the source was a non-U.S. citizen so that the agency would permit the "conduits" to enter or remain in the United States.

The indictment says the temple reimbursed the campaign contributions of people who served as "conduits," including Hsia herself. It also alleges that the system of payments defrauded the FEC and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), stating the FEC was given false information about the source of contributions and the INS was not told the source was a non-U.S. citizen so that the agency would permit the "conduits" to enter or remain in the United States.

The Hsi Lai Temple, located in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights, Calif., was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

This is the second indictment produced by the Justice task force. Two weeks ago, Charlie Trie, another Democratic fund-raiser and longtime Bill Clinton supporter, was charged along with an associate, Antonio Pan, with illegal campaign fund-raising activities.

Attorney General Janet Reno, who has repeatedly refused to turn the campaign finance probe over to an independent counsel, issued a written statement calling the indictment "yet another step forward in the Justice Department's investigation of campaign finance abuses associated with the 1996 election."

A report by the Senate committee which investigated Democratic fund-raising activities said about $65,000 was given by non-U.S. citizens and Buddhist nuns who were "straw donors" who made donations and were reimbursed by the temple.

Gore has insisted he never viewed the gathering at the Hsi Lai Temple as a Democratic fund-raiser, but merely an event to thank past contributors and encourage future fund-raising efforts among the Asian-American community.

However, the report by the Republican-led Senate panel said, "It should have been obvious to everyone involved, including the vice president, that the Hsi Lai Temple luncheon was a DNC fund-raiser." Senate investigators concluded about $100,000 was raised before and after the temple event.

Hsia was born in Taiwan, after her parents fled the People's Republic of China. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1973.

Hsia has been an active Democratic fund-raiser since the late 1980's when she headed the Los Angeles-based Pacific L