A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted a Democratic fund-raiser, Maria Hsia, on charges that she laundered illegal contributions through a Buddhist temple in California to the re-election campaigns of President Clinton, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and other politicians between 1993 and 1996.
The six-count indictment accuses Hsia (pronounced shaw) of conspiring to defraud the United States and making false statements about the actual source of the donations in documents filed with the Federal Election Commission by several campaign committees.
The indictment was the second returned by the Justice Department campaign-finance team in a month. Attorney General Janet Reno said the charges represented another step in the department’s investigation of campaign-finance abuse in the 1996 election.
On Jan. 29, prosecutors obtained an indictment of two Democratic fund-raisers, Yah Lin “Charlie” Trie and Antonio Pan, charging them with concealing the source of contributions to the Democratic National Committee. But Wednesday’s indictment had seemed potentially more significant because it focused on events involving Vice President Al Gore.
Republicans in Congress have long investigated Hsia’s activities because she is accused of helping to raise money at a 1996 political event at the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif., that was attended by Gore.
The lawmakers have said that Gore’s appearance at the event tied him to the fund-raising scandal and could be used against him in his expected run in 2000 for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Gore has said he was unaware that the temple event was a fund-raiser. But a draft of a report prepared by Republicans on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which investigated the campaign-finance issue, concluded that the fund-raising nature of the events should have been evident to him.
Gore’s aides said Wednesday that the charges had nothing to do with the vice president.
“The matters for which Ms. Hsia has been indicted do not involve Vice President Gore,” said a spokesman for Gore, Christopher Lehane.
One count in the indictment cited the temple fund-raiser attended by Gore, and said that Hsia solicited $55,000 from 11 people one day after the event. Everyone who contributed money before or after the event was reimbursed.
Hsia’s lawyer, Nancy Luque, has said that her client played no role in organizing the event, and that Hsia, who is scheduled to be arraigned today, would contest the charges.
The indictment said that money was donated in the names of individual contributors was actually donated by the temple, which was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
The indictment said that illegal contributions went to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton-Gore 1996 re-election campaign, the 1994 re-election campaign of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and the 1996 re-election campaign of Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I.
The charges said that others who received illegal donations were the 1994 re-election campaign of March Fong Eu, the former California secretary of state who is U.S. ambassador to Micronesia, and Don Knabe’s 1996 campaign for Los Angeles County supervisor. None of the recipients of the donations were charged with any wrongdoing.