NEW YORK - A federal grand jury yesterday indicted a top Democratic fund-raiser accused of cheating investors of at least $20 million and using some of the money for illegal donations to political candidates such as Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In the 15-count indictment, the government accused Norman Hsu, 56, a clothing-industry entrepreneur, of duping investors nationwide with a massive Ponzi scheme.
It said Hsu also violated federal campaign-finance laws by making contributions in other people's names to various candidates.
A message left with a lawyer for Hsu was not immediately returned.
Federal prosecutors said Hsu hoped his lavish contributions would help draw money to his scheme by raising his public profile. To achieve his aims, Hsu pressured many of his victims to contribute thousands of dollars to various candidates for president and Congress, prosecutors said.
Hsu was once a valued Clinton supporter, raising more than $1.2 million in recent years for her and other Democrats, including Gov. Rendell. A scandal ensued when it was revealed that Hsu had been wanted in California since 1992, when he fled after pleading no contest to grand-theft charges in a fraudulent clothing-import business.
In August, Hsu posted $2 million bail, and his lawyer said his fugitive status was just a misunderstanding. But Hsu missed a court date Sept. 5, fled by train, and was arrested at a Colorado hospital after authorities said he attempted suicide.
Hsu's work on Clinton's behalf has been an embarrassment for her presidential campaign. It has returned more than $800,000 to donors whose contributions were linked to him.
The indictment said that Hsu, from 2000 through August 2007, persuaded his victims to invest at least $60 million in companies that supposedly extended short-term financing to businesses. It said he used the money instead to further his fraudulent aims. Prosecutors said he eventually cheated investors out of at least $20 million.
The government said he also broke election laws by donating more than $25,000 to federal candidates in others' names in 2005, 2006 and 2007. It said he asked individuals to contribute to designated federal candidates, then reimbursed them from his fraud proceeds.
Federal election law requires that donors give their own money, for which they cannot be repaid; in addition, an individual can donate only up to $25,000 in total contributions to federal candidates in a calendar year.
U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia has said there was no evidence that any campaigns were aware of the scheme or acted criminally. He said the Clinton campaign was cooperating with the investigation.
Hsu faces six counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud, and three counts of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the fraud charges, and five years on each of the federal campaign-finance charges. He also could face millions of dollars in fines.
Hsu is in custody in California on unrelated charges and is expected to appear in court in Manhattan in several weeks, prosecutors said.