Hsia Pleads 'Not Guilty,' Vows To Fight Indictment
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
WASHINGTON (Feb. 19) -- Indicted Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia entered a plea of "not guilty" Thursday to charges of conspiring to funnel illegal donations to Democrats from a Buddhist group. Trial is set for April 27.
"I have done nothing wrong and I am prepared to fight," Hsia [pronounced "Shaw"] said as she emerged from U.S. District Court.
Hsia's attorney, Nancy Luque, said the Justice Department's indictment of Hsia is "a house of cards" that is being used "as a political weapon." She also repeated her denial of an allegation by Senate Republicans that Hsia is a Chinese "agent."
"She's certainly not an agent of the Chinese government," Luque said. A draft report of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Republican staff contains a paragraph stating that Hsia has been an "agent" of the Chinese. The report does not give any details, or even a source, for the allegation, however.
At Hsia's arraignment a federal judge ordered her to hand over her U.S. passport, following wrangling by attorneys over whether Hsia might flee to China.
Over the bitter objections of Hsia's attorney, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman agreed to the government's request Hsia be prevented from
leaving the country.
"This would be a free ticket to avoid prosecution," said prosecutor Eric Yaffe. "She has substantial ties to Taiwan and China, and frequently travels to China," Yaffe told the judge. He revealed government agents have had Hsia under 24-hour surveillance for months.
Luque strongly argued Hsia is not a flight risk, and as an immigration consultant needs to be able to make business trips to China. "This will effectively ruin her business", Luque insisted. "She has not one scintilla of incentive to stay in China. She is terrified of Red China, and will not travel there alone."
Hsia, 47, is accused of fraud and conspiracy, which are felonies. The indictment, released Wednesday, accuses her of funnelling tens of thousands of dollars in illegal donations from the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple near Los Angeles to the Democratic National Committee in connection with a 1996 event featuring Vice President Al Gore.
She's also accused of fostering illegal donations to candidates, including the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in 1995, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's campaign in 1994.
After the announcement of the indictment, Gore tried to distance himself from 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."
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.