CBSN

Democratic Fund-Raiser Indicted

A federal grand jury charged Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia on Wednesday with disguising illegal campaign contributions by a California Buddhist temple to the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign and other politicians between 1993 and 1996.

The second indictment brought by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force was hailed by Attorney General Janet Reno as "yet another step forward" in her investigation of finance abuses during the 1996 election. Reno has been under Republican fire for refusing to hand the case to an independent counsel.

The Hsi Lai Temple, located in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights, Calif., was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. Formally incorporated as the International Buddhist Progress Society, the temple is a tax-exempt religious organization barred from participating in any political campaign. Political contributions from corporations also are illegal.

The long-anticipated Hsia indictment has been cited by political observers as a potential problem for Vice President Al Gore and his ambition to seek the presidency in 2000.

Gore was not charged in the case, but the indictment mentioned three fund-raisers that he attended and two that Clinton attended for which the grand jury charged Hsia raised disguised contributions.

Three temple nuns told a Senate committee last fall the temple illegally reimbursed donors after an April 1996 fund-raiser that Gore attended there. The nuns testified the temple destroyed or altered records to avoid embarrassment.
Gore has said he did not know it was a fund-raising event, but a draft report by the Senate panel concludes it should have been obvious to him.

"The matters for which Ms. Hsia has been indicted do not involve Vice President Gore," said Gore spokesman Christopher Lehane. "This is now a question for the courts, and we are confident fairness will be done."

But mindful of the potential political fallout, a Gore aide said any efforts by partisan opponents in the future to taint the vice president would be "cynical efforts to exploit the issue for a cheap political gain."

Clinton's 1996 opponent, Bob Dole, and Presidents Bush and Reagan all had political supporters and personal friends convicted of crimes, but the public did not blame those politicians, said this Gore aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The six-count indictment alleges that Hsia, a 47-year-old immigration consultant, conspired to defraud the United States and caused false statements about the contributions' source to be filed by campaign committees with the Federal Election Commission.

Hsia's attorney, Nancy Luque, has denied that her client, a Taiwan-born U.S. citizen and California resident, violated the law and has said she will fight any charges.

Hsia was expected to surrender here Thursday for arraignment.

On Jan. 29, the campaign finance task force indicted CharliTrie, a former Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur and longtime Clinton friend, and his associate, Antonio Pan, on fund-raising charges. Trie returned from abroad earlier this month and pleaded innocent.

Written by Michael J. Smiffen ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed