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Chung cuts plea bargain - will admit donor fraud

SHARE Chung cuts plea bargain - will admit donor fraud

Democratic fund-raiser Johnny Chung, once a frequent visitor to the White House, has struck a plea bargain with the government and will admit funneling $20,000 in illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Chung, a Taiwanese-born businessman 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."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."

A federal source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Chung will plead guilty on Monday.

Chung, 43, was accused of setting up "straw donors" who wrote campaign donation checks, then were reimbursed by Chung in order to skirt contribution limits by thousands of dollars.

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

"This investigation is moving forward, but we are not going to let up now," said Attorney General Janet Reno, who has been criticized by Republicans in Washington for not appointing a special prosecutor.

Chung visited the White House on some 50 occasions in recent years. 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 and then was allowed to bring a group of Chinese businessmen to the White House to watch President Clinton deliver his weekly radio address. He also had a photo taken with Hillary Clinton.

White House memos showed that Chung was making a pitch to provide fax service for the government around the same time. But his efforts never led to any business deal.

The Justice Department's Campaign Finance Task Force filed the charges in Los Angeles because Chung lives in the suburb of Artesia.

The charges carry a maximum punishment of 37 years in prison and $1.45 million in fines, but plea bargains ordinarily involve a request for substantially reduced penalties.

A spokesman said the White House will have no comment on the case.

The amounts of money involved in the charges were substantially lower than figures previously attributed to Chung and apparently were reduced under the plea bargain.

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

In addition to the $20,000 linked to the Clinton-Gore campaign, Chung also was charged with funneling $8,000 to the 1996 re-election campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Jim Jones, a Kerry spokesman, said the senator returned a $10,000 contribution from Chung "the minute any questions were raised . . . to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

Chung also was charged with evading an unspecified amount of income taxes and with fraudulently obtaining a $157,500 loan on his Artesia home.

In January, Charlie Trie, a former Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur and longtime Clinton friend, and his associate, Yuan Pei "Antonio" Pan, were charged with raising illegal donations to buy influence with high government officials.

And last month, Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia was charged with disguising illegal campaign contributions by 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.

Also Thursday, a man suspected of illegally funneling $325,000 in foreign contributions to the Democratic party appeared in federal court in San Francisco on unrelated fraud charges.

Yogesh Gandhi, 49, was arrested Wednesday as he prepared to fly home to India. He is accused of obtaining corporate American Express cards for himself and his wife in 1995 by forging a co-worker's name on the application. The charge apparently was filed in order to keep Gandhi from leaving the country before an investigation into his campaign finance role is completed.