Attorney: Corruption probes could taint NY jury

Larry Neumeister, Associated Press
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- The lawyer for a mayoral candidate's former campaign treasurer says a rash of arrests in political corruption cases makes it likely that prospective jurors will show up for trial next week believing politicians are corrupt.

Attorney Gerald Lefcourt made the complaint in a letter submitted to U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan on Monday, saying he fears that jurors "fed up" with corruption will show up at court determined to strike a blow against corruption.

Starting next Monday, the judge will preside over the trial of the one-time treasurer, Jia "Jenny" Hou, and fundraiser Xing "Oliver" Wu Pan. Prosecutors say they conspired to break campaign finance laws when they worked for city Comptroller John Liu. Both have pleaded not guilty. The government says the pair circumvented a $4,950 contribution limit by funneling money from one contributor through others to claim a greater share of matching funds and increase the Democrat's campaign account.

The judge said at a hearing Tuesday that he believes the jury selection process in place for the trial will succeed in eliminating any biased jurors.

The trial comes just days after federal prosecutors in Manhattan unleashed one of their broadest attacks ever on political corruption. They announced conspiracy charges last week against a state senator, a state assemblyman and a city councilman, among others. In announcing the arrests, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara warned that political corruption had become "downright pervasive" in the state and something needed to be done about it.

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed giving prosecutors more power to combat public corruption in a requirement that public officials report the corrupt actions of their colleagues.

Lefcourt, in his letter, urged the judge to have prospective jurors individually questioned if they acknowledge that they have been exposed to reports of recent political corruption. He also recommended that the judge let lawyers question them directly.

Lefcourt said it was difficult to imagine that prospective jurors who have read reports of the new prosecutions would not assume that New York elected officials are all corrupt and federal prosecutors are "struggling mightily to combat this rampant corruption."

"We are extremely concerned about this turn of events," he wrote.