Pair charged with making straw donations to Trump committees

Jul 18, 2022, 1:28 AM | Updated: 4:41 pm
The complaint and affidavit in support of an arrest warrant against Sherry Xue Li and Lianbo "Mike"...

The complaint and affidavit in support of an arrest warrant against Sherry Xue Li and Lianbo "Mike" Wang is photographed on Monday, July 18, 2022. The two have been charged with funneling foreigners' money into political donations that bought access to an exclusive dinner with then-President Donald Trump. One of the photos contained in the affidavit shows Trump and first lady Melania Trump posing for a photo with Li during a fundraiser on June 28, 2017. (Department of Justice via AP)

(Department of Justice via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Two Chinese American businesspeople were charged Monday with funneling foreigners’ money into political donations that bought entry to an exclusive dinner with then-President Donald Trump so the duo could impress and swindle Chinese investors.

In a complex financial scheme with political tentacles, prosecutors say, Sherry Xue Li and Lianbo “Mike” Wang raised $27 million for a grandiose development plan that never got close to approval, then siphoned off millions of dollars for personal expenses.

To project the sway to keep their promises — which often included visas to live in the U.S. — they used investor money and foreign nationals’ cash to make big-dollar donations and be seen with Trump and other prominent politicians, prosecutors said in court documents.

“Together we can build a better, stronger and healthier community and ‘Make America Great Again!'” read one of their business’ press releases trumpeting that Li and Wang had attended a pre-inaugural reception featuring various figures in the incoming Trump administration.

Prosecutors didn’t allege any criminal wrongdoing by the political action committees that accepted donations from Li and Wang.

Li, 50, and Wang, 45, were being held without bail after their first appearance in a Brooklyn federal court, though their lawyers can argue for bail later on. The two are facing various federal conspiracy charges.

They weren’t asked to enter a plea, but Wang volunteered, through a Mandarin interpreter, “I did not do this thing.”

Li’s lawyer, Nora Hirozawa, declined to comment. A message seeking comment was left for Wang’s attorney, James Roth.

The naturalized U.S. citizens are business partners who share a Long Island home with some of Li’s relatives, including her 15-year-old son.

Li has been promoting plans for a development near New York’s Catskill Mountains for nearly a decade; Wang worked with her as general manager. Initially envisioned as a cultural theme park called “China City of America,” it morphed into a proposal for a for-profit college campus after local officials told Li that zoning wouldn’t allow the “Chinese Disneyland” she first planned.

The “Thompson Education Center” has never materialized, either. Local officials denied the necessary sewer service in 2015 and then told Li flat-out in 2017 that the project wasn’t approved, according to prosecutors’ court papers.

But she and Wang continued to tell investors the project was a go, sometimes sending them photos of a construction site. That site was actually a house she was having built somewhere else, prosecutors said.

Many backers had been lured with promises of investor visas, which ultimately were denied because of immigration officials’ doubts about the viability of the “Education Center” project, according to court papers.

To bolster those promises, Wang and Li sought to create an image of influence with prominent U.S. politicians.

In some cases, the image was literal.

Li and Wang solicited money from foreigners to give over $600,000 of donations — converted into Wang’s and Li’s names — to attend and bring guests to a June 2017 fundraising dinner with the then-president, prosecutors said. A photo from the event shows Li with Trump and then-first lady Melania Trump.

It is against the law for foreign nationals to contribute to American political campaigns, and prosecutors say Li and Wang knew it.

“It’s unlawful for businessmen in China to make donations. But these businessmen can invest in our company and become our shareholders. We can then arrange for them to meet with the president. Donation is definitely necessary. Our company can do that and it is legal,” Wang told a prospective investor in December 2018 after sending the photo of Trump and Li from the fundraising dinner, according to court papers.

Other investors or prospects also got brochures featuring Li or Wang with Trump and other politicians, including Democratic then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, Li, Wang and unnamed co-conspirators spent at least $2.5 million of their investors’ money on jewelry, vacations, fancy dining, nannies, traffic tickets and other personal items, according to prosecutors. They said some investor money also went to the defendants’ political hobnobbing campaign, including donations and hiring a private plane to bring a Chinese national to a Trump event in October 2017.

The unusual campaign contributions by Li and Wang caught the attention of journalists in 2017 amid scrutiny of numerous donors with ties to other nations who were, at the time, trying to curry favor with the new Trump administration.

The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Breon Peace, said Monday his office was “committed to protecting our democratic process from those who would expose it to unlawful foreign influence.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president has threatened to fire top agricultural officials if an investigation shows they improperly announced a decision to import sugar amid a shortage without his approval, his press secretary said Thursday. It’s the stiffest punitive step newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could take against officials over an apparent […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Don’t bank on your business to fund your retirement

Retirement can loom like a dark cloud for small-business owners. Many invest blood, sweat and tears — and every penny — into building their business but never set cash aside for the future. A huge number of entrepreneurs have reported putting aside no retirement savings at all. For some, selling the business is their only […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Spain evacuates 294 more Afghan workers and families

MADRID (AP) — A plane provided by the Spanish government has brought 294 Afghan refugees via Pakistan to Spain, authorities said Thursday, bringing to 3,900 the number of people evacuated by Madrid since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year. A government statement said the latest group of Afghan workers and their families flew into […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Indiana officer critically wounded in traffic stop shooting

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) — An eastern Indiana police officer was critically wounded and a man was injured in a shootout following a traffic stop and search for possible narcotics, authorities said. Richmond Police Department Officer Seara Burton responded to a call about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday from other officers to assist with the stop involving a […]
1 day ago
Pope Francis waves to faithful as he arrives in the Paul VI hall for his the weekly general audienc...
Associated Press

Pope Francis meets transgender guests of Rome church

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has met with a fourth group of transgender people who found shelter at a Rome church, the Vatican newspaper reported Thursday. L’Osservatore Romano said the encounter took place Wednesday on the sidelines of Francis’ weekly general audience. The newspaper quoted Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and the Rev. Andrea Conocchia as saying […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Mask mandates return in New Delhi as COVID-19 cases rise

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian capital reintroduced public mask mandates on Thursday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country. The New Delhi government reinstituted a fine of 500 rupees ($6) for anyone caught not wearing a mask or face covering in public. India’s Health Ministry said 16,299 new cases were recorded in […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
Pair charged with making straw donations to Trump committees