Trump election fundraiser, photo used investment fraud scheme
Two New York residents were arrested Monday on a federal criminal complaint accusing them of a nearly decadelong $27 million investment fraud scheme that leveraged their attendance at a 2017 fundraiser with then-President Donald Trump to dupe their victims.
Prosecutors said Sherry Xue Li and Lianbo Wang lured more than 150 victims, many of whom were foreign nationals living outside the United States, into investing in a fictitious project to build a private educational institution in Sullivan County, New York, by claiming it had the support of prominent politicians.
The two Oyster Bay, Long Island, residents also promised their investors green cards to obtain residence in the United States, access to politicians and dividends for their financial support of the so-called Thompson Education Center, according to prosecutors.
The duo used the money they allegedly swindled to pay personal expenses for clothing, jewelry, housing, vacations and upscale meals, as well as “contributions to prominent politicians,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.
“In furtherance of their scheme, Li and Wang also acted as ‘straw donors’ for foreign nationals to unlawfully contribute to campaigns supporting U.S. politicians and political committees,” that office said. “Among other things, Li and Wang promised foreign nationals access to U.S. political events and politicians in exchange for a fee.”
For example, Li, 50, and the 45-year-old Wang charged 12 foreign nationals $93,000 per person for admission to a June 2017 Trump fundraiser, and they used that money to “unlawfully” make $600,000 in political contributions to the committee that hosted the event, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York.
“Li, Wang and their foreign national guests attended the June 28, 2017 Fundraiser and took photographs with the then-President of the United States,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
“Li and Wang later used a photograph of Li and the President taken at the fundraiser to solicit investment in the TEC Project.”
It is illegal for foreign money to be used to contribute to U.S. federal political campaigns. Li and Wang were both born and raised in China, but are naturalized U.S. citizens.
In addition to the Trump event, prosecutors said Li and Wang used investors’ funds to make political contributions to other political events, where they took photographs with elected officials and later used those photos to solicit investments from foreign nationals in the TEC project, prosecutors said.
A 2017 USA Today profile of Li noted that she had donated more than $32,000 to the Republican National Committee shortly before Trump won the 2016 election, and that she had issued news releases that touted her attendance at Trump’s inauguration, “a black-tie inaugural ball, an invitation-only reception to honor White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and a pre-inaugural dinner with ‘select Cabinet appointees … to have an intimate policy discussion.’ “
The same profile said Li contributed $55,000 to the campaign of then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, in 2014, and more than $47,000 the same year to the GOP election committee whose goal was to keep the House of Representatives under Republican control.
Li and Wang, also known as “Mike Wang,” are charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing the Federal Election Commission’s administration of campaign finance laws.
The defendants are due to appear Monday afternoon in Brooklyn federal court.
Prosecutors in a letter to Judge Ramon Reyes called the defendants “significant flight risks” because of “the seriousness of the charged offenses and the overwhelming evidence of their guilt,” as well as their longstanding ties and travel to China, which does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.