NATIONAL NEWS

Chinese billionaire gets time served, leaves country after New York, Rhode Island straw donor scheme

May 9, 2024, 3:08 PM

A Chinese billionaire who pleaded guilty to funneling illegal straw donations to politicians’ campaigns in New York and Rhode Island was sentenced Thursday to time served and quickly left the country as part of his deal with prosecutors to forfeit his green card.

Hui Qin, 56, a Chinese film magnate with homes in Manhattan and Long Island, appeared in federal court in Central Islip, New York, and was sentenced to seven months in prison — matching the time he had served in pretrial detention since his arrest in October. He later was taken to an airport and boarded a plane to an undisclosed location, his lawyer said.

Qin pleaded guilty in March to illegally making campaign contributions in the names of others, immigration fraud and production of a false identification document. He admitted using his fortune to recruit and reimburse people who made political donations on his behalf, starting with a New York City race in 2021 — when Mayor Eric Adams was elected.

Federal prosecutors never named the politicians whose campaigns received the straw donations. U.S. Attorney Breon Peace’s office said they were a candidate for New York City political office, a U.S. representative on Long Island and a candidate for a Rhode Island congressional district seat.

Prosecutors said the straw donors contributed about $11,600 to the campaigns on Qin’s behalf without the campaigns’ knowledge.

“Qin’s brazen flouting of our political and immigration systems, and his defrauding government agencies resulted in a felony conviction, prison sentence and today, his removal from the United States,” Peace said in a statement.

Qin’s lawyer, Henry Mazurek, said Qin got on a plane to leave the country later in the day. He declined to say where Qin was going. He said his client looked forward to rebuilding his life.

“I have no doubts that he will soon regain prominence in international business, and he has a good future ahead of him,” Mazurek said in a phone interview. “And it is unfortunate that the U.S. government decides that he will have to build that career someplace else, because he has always been a philanthropist, a legitimate businessman who has done a lot of good here in Long Island and New York.”

Mazurek said Qin “just wanted to participate as a citizen could” in elections, but was not able to contribute to candidates he supported because he was not a citizen. He said the campaigns did not know about the straw donors scheme.

Qin was previously included on the Forbes list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion from his stake in film and entertainment companies, including the Honk Kong-based SMI Culture.

According to campaign finance records, Qin donated $2,000 to Adams in March 2021. Under the city’s campaign finance rules, green card-holders can contribute to races and participate in the city’s generous matching funds program, which caps donations at $2,100. A lawyer for Adams has said the mayor had no knowledge of the scheme.

Nine months after the donation to Adams, federal prosecutors said Qin began working “to find individuals to make more than $10,000 in straw donor contributions” to an unnamed New York City candidate.

At least one person donated $1,000 on Qin’s behalf on Dec. 9, according to prosecutors. The following day, Qin spoke with an unnamed co-conspirator, who told him they expected to be able to obtain up to $20,000 in straw donor contributions for the candidate.

Adams, a Democrat, is currently facing a federal investigation for his fundraising practices. He has said his campaign followed the law on fundraising.

Prosecutors say Qin engaged in two other straw donor schemes.

Federal Elections Commission records show Qin donated $2,900 in 2022 to the campaign of Allan Fung, a Republican former mayor who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Rhode Island. Fung did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.

Records also show that a man named Jonathan Chau, who provided Adams’ transition committee with $1,000 on December 9, 2021, gave $5,800 to a committee supporting Fung, and $2,900 to a committee backing Rep. Andrew Garbarino, a Long Island Republican. An email message seeking comment was sent to a Garbarino staffer.

Also as part of the case, Qin admitted to filing a false application for lawful permanent residency status in the U.S. in 2019 by falsely claiming he never used an alias, and fraudulently obtaining a Florida driver’s license when he lived in New York.

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Chinese billionaire gets time served, leaves country after New York, Rhode Island straw donor scheme