Two Chinese-American businessmen were charged on Monday with embezzling money from foreigners for political donations that bought entry to an exclusive dinner with then-President Donald Trump so that the duo could impress and defraud Chinese investors.
In a complex financial scheme with political tentacles, prosecutors say, Sherry Xue Li and Lianbo Mike Wang raised $27 million for a grandiose development plan that never came close to approval, then embezzled millions of dollars for personal expenses.
To project the grip of keeping their promises, which often included visas to live in the United States, they used money from investors and money from foreign nationals to make large donations and be seen with Trump and other other prominent politicians, prosecutors said in court documents.
Together, we can build a better, stronger, healthier community and make America even more beautiful!” read one of their company’s press releases trumpeting that Li and Wang had attended a pre-inauguration reception featuring featured various figures from the incoming Trump administration.
Prosecutors have alleged no foul play by the political action committees that accepted Li and Wang’s donations.
Li, 50, and Wang, 45, were being held without bond after their first appearance in federal court in Brooklyn, although their lawyers may apply for bail later. The two face various federal conspiracy charges.
They weren’t asked to enter a plea, but Wang volunteered, through a Mandarin interpreter, I didn’t do that thing.
Li’s attorney, Nora Hirozawa, declined to comment. A message seeking comment was left for Wang’s attorney, James Roth.
The naturalized US citizens are business partners who share a Long Island home with some of Li’s relatives, including her 15-year-old son.
Li has been promoting development projects near the Catskill Mountains in New York for nearly a decade; Wang worked with her as general manager. Originally envisioned as a cultural theme park called China City of America, it morphed into a proposed for-profit college campus after local officials told Li that zoning would not allow the Chinese Disneyland that she had originally planned.
The Thompson Education Center never materialized either. Local officials denied needed sewer service in 2015 and then told Li in 2017 that the project had not been approved, according to court documents from prosecutors.
But she and Wang continued to tell investors the project was a success, sometimes sending them pictures of a construction site. That site was actually a house she was building elsewhere, prosecutors said.
Many backers had been lured by promises of investor visas, which were ultimately denied due to immigration officials’ doubts about the viability of the education center project, according to court documents.
To reinforce these promises, Wang and Li sought to create an image of influence with prominent American politicians.
In some cases, the picture was literal.
Li and Wang solicited money from strangers to donate more than $600,000 in converted donations in Wang and Li’s names to attend and bring guests to a June 2017 fundraising dinner with the president of the time, prosecutors said. A photo from the event shows Li with Trump and then-First Lady Melania Trump.
It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to US political campaigns, and prosecutors say Li and Wang knew this.
It is illegal for businessmen in China to donate. But these businessmen can invest in our company and become our shareholders. We can then arrange a meeting with the president. The donation is absolutely necessary. Our company can do it and it’s legal, Wang told a potential investor in December 2018 after sending the photo of Trump and Li from the fundraising dinner, according to court documents.
Other investors or prospects also received brochures featuring Li or Wang with Trump and other politicians, including Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Li, Wang and unnamed co-conspirators spent at least $2.5 million of their investors’ money on jewelry, vacations, fancy meals, nannies, traffic tickets and other personal items, prosecutors say. They said some of the investors’ money also went to the defendants’ political campaign, including donations and the rental of a private plane to fly a Chinese national to a Trump event in October 2017.
Li and Wang’s unusual campaign contributions caught the eye of reporters in 2017 amid scrutiny from many donors with ties to other nations who were trying to curry favor at the time. of the new Trump administration.
Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said Monday his office is committed to protecting our democratic process from those who expose it to unlawful foreign influence.
(Only the title and image of this report may have been edited by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)