First charges filed in probe of '96 fund raising Federal grand jury indicts longtime Clinton friend and Democratic fund-raiser

January 29, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In the first indictment stemming from the federal investigation into alleged fund-raising illegalities during the 1996 campaign, a federal grand jury brought charges yesterday against Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, a longtime friend of President Clinton and a major Democratic fund-raiser, government sources said.

Trie was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and election code violations, the sources said.

The official filing of the indictment, which also named as a defendant Antonio Pan, an Asian businessman and Trie associate, was delayed until today when a federal magistrate balked yesterday at the government's effort to have the charges sealed. The government sought to seal the indictment so an effort could be made to apprehend the men without alerting them that they had been charged.

The specific counts and penalties faced by the two defendants, if convicted, could not be learned.

Trie, a former Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur who followed Clinton to Washington to set up an international business consulting firm, is believed to be living in Asia.

Trie's lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, did not return calls to his home and office.

Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg declined to comment on the grand jury's action.

The Justice Department's criminal investigation of campaign finance has been operating in Washington and Los Angeles with more than 120 lawyers, law enforcement agents and support personnel.

Grand juries here and in Los Angeles are expected to issue more indictments in the fund-raising scandal over the next month.

Between 1994 and 1996, Trie raised and solicited $645,000 for the Democratic National Committee and brought another $639,000 from disciples of a Taiwan-based Buddhist sect to Clinton's legal defense fund, set up to help the president pay for legal costs he has accrued from the federal Whitewater investigation.

The contributions were returned by the DNC and the defense fund after questions about the money's legality and propriety surfaced.

In the summer of 1996, Pan allegedly carried out a money-laundering scheme by giving nearly $80,000 in cash to Asian-Americans in the Los Angeles area in return for their

personal checks made out to "DNC," according to records and testimony obtained by congressional investigators.

Record show the $80,000 originated in the Bank of China in the account of a Macau-based businessman. On Aug. 7, 1996, the money was wired to an account held by Trie at the Riggs National Bank in Washington.

The money then was allegedly transferred on Aug. 15 to the American International Bank in Alhambra, Calif., where Pan then collected $60,000 in $100 bills and $20,000 in $50 bills.

The money soon was converted into donations, with personal checks in $5,000 and $10,000 amounts being sent to DNC headquarters for the campaign.

By reconstructing Pan's travels and telephone calls, Senate and House investigators identified at least seven Asian-American donors who wrote large checks to the DNC between Aug. 15 and Aug. 18.

None of the seven donors had given money to the DNC before, and none attended the Aug. 18 event to which they were supposedly contributing -- a celebration of Clinton's 50th birthday party at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

In addition to Trie, Pan was an associate of Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, whose move from the Commerce Department to the DNC had been facilitated by Clinton. Huang is under investigation by the campaign finance task force.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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