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Fund-Raiser Chung Arraigned

Johnny Chung, once a frequent visitor to the White House as a Democratic campaign fund-raiser, was arraigned Monday on charges of making illegal campaign contributions.

U.S. Magistrate Virginia Phillips, who said she understood Chung would be pleading guilty, ordered the Torrance businessman to appear March 16 to enter his plea in federal court.

Chung answered solemnly, "Yes, your honor," to a series of questions about whether he understood his rights and the agreement he made.

The 43-year-old Taiwanese-born businessman has agreed to plead guilty to charges that include funneling $20,000 in illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

"Mr. Chung has reached an agreement with the government," his lawyer, Brian Sun, said. "He wishes to put this matter behind him as quickly as possible. Mr. Chung and his family hope to get on with their lives."

Chung actually contributed more than $400,000 to Democratic causes and candidates between 1994 and 1996. The reduced amounts in charges against him are the result of a tell-all plea bargain negotiated between Chung's lawyer and federal prosecutors.

A federal source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chung had agreed to cooperate with the government probe in return for leniency. He is the first major figure in the campaign finance scandal to offer cooperation.

Chung, who is now a U.S. citizen, was charged Thursday in U.S. District Court with violating federal campaign finance law, tax evasion and bank fraud.

Chung, was accused of setting up "straw donors" who wrote campaign donation checks, then were reimbursed by Chung in order to skirt contribution limits.

"This investigation is moving forward, but we are not going to let up now," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

Chung visited the White House on about 50 occasions in recent years, at least once escorting a delegation of Chinese businessmen who wanted to watch President Clinton deliver his weekly radio address. Chung repeatedly was photographed with the president and first lady.

He has said that in 1995 he was solicited for money by a White House staffer, delivered a $50,000 check to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's office.

Chung told the Los Angeles Times last year: "The White House is like a subway. You have to put coins in to open the gates."

The Chung contributions were returned after questions arose about their legality.

Chung could face 37 years in prison and $1.45 million in fines, but plea bargains ordinarily involve a request for substantially reduced penalties.

He is the fourth person charged in the last five weeks in the Justice Department's probe into finance abuses during the 1996 campaign.

Others already under indictment for campaign finance abuses are:

  • Charlie Trie, a former Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur and longtime Clinton friend, and his associte, Yuan Pei "Antonio" Pan. Both were charged with raising illegal donations to buy influence with high government officials.
  • Maria Hsia was charged with disguising illegal campaign contributions from a California Buddhist temple to the Clinton-Gore campaign and other politicians between 1993 and 1996.
  • Trie and Hsia have pleaded innocent. The government is still trying to locate Pan.

Written by Linda Deutsch.
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