MANHATTAN (CN) - In an appellate hearing Wednesday for two convicted supporters of former New York City Comptroller John Liu, the court's favor seemed to shine on one defendant but not the other.
The hearing came over two years after a federal jury found Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan and Jia "Jenny" Hou guilty of corruption charges for their work on Comptroller Liu's ultimately unsuccessful bid to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor.
Liu had a reputation for being a sharp critic of Bloomberg, using that platform to denounce waste and abuse in city government and rampant income inequality.
The Democrat's message resonated at the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but Liu's campaign never took off after Pan and Hou's indictment in early 2012. Coming in fourth place, Liu received just a fifth of the votes cast for now-Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Federal prosecutors accused fundraiser Pan and campaign treasurer Hou of exploiting a matching-funds program administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
The program provides $6 in matching funds for every dollar donated by a New York City resident over 18 years of age, up to a maximum of $175.
Pan's attorney, Irwin Rochman with Tesser, Ryan & Rochman, urged the Second Circuit reverse Wednesday based on the absence of "actual harm."
Since investigators stopped the scheme before the city paid the matching funds, Rochman said there was no showing that Pan, now 49, had specific intent to commit a crime.
Judge Peter Hall squawked that granting such relief would be akin to finding "no conspiracy here," if al-Qaida had not been able to hit the World Trade Center and no harm resulted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy derided what he called Rochman's "tortured textual analysis."
Hou, now 29, seemed to fare better at the hearing, with her attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, arguing that Hou did not know about any straw-donor scheme, and that the government's own witnesses corroborated her denials.
Prosecutors say Hou told a campaign volunteer how to imitate donors' handwriting on contribution forms and conceal information about intermediaries from the board.
Lefcourt meanwhile accused the government of lying to a magistrate judge to obtain an "overbroad" and "illegal warrant" that uncovered the 18 fraudulent contribution forms among the "hundreds" of legitimate forms his client oversaw.
The government seized 19,000 documents spanning four years, of which it ultimately took 1,901.
For conspiracy to commit wire fraud and attempt to commit wire fraud, Pan received a four-month sentence. Hou received a 10-month sentence for attempted wire fraud, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
After arguments concluded, Hou appeared calm in the lobby of the courthouse.
"I believe in the judges," she told reporters. "I believe in the system. I believe they'll give me justice."
CORRECTION: The original version of this article mischaracterized Xing Wu Pan's association with the mayoral campaign of former New York City comptroller John Liu. While Pan was a supporter of the campaign, he never worked for it. Courthouse News regrets the error.
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