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Chinese Magnate in Straw Donor Scheme Agrees to Leave U.S. in Plea Deal

LocalChinese Magnate in Straw Donor Scheme Agrees to Leave U.S. in Plea Deal

A Chinese entertainment magnate who pleaded guilty to making more than $10,000 in illegal political campaign donations to three candidates, agreed in federal court on Thursday to give up his green card and leave the United States.

Hui Qin, 55, had been in jail in Brooklyn since his arrest in October. One of the candidates was Mayor Eric Adams, according to two people familiar with the case, though none of the campaigns knew the donations were illegal, prosecutors said.

In March, Mr. Qin pleaded guilty to charges of making campaign contributions in the names of others, immigration fraud and producing false identification. On Thursday, he was sentenced to seven months in jail with credit for time served.

In court on Long Island on Thursday, Mr. Qin wept as his lawyer, Henry Mazurek, told Judge Joan M. Azrack that his client was a “self-made businessman” in China whose chain of more than 3,000 movie theaters had been ruined by the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. His company collapsed, he was the target of lawsuits and his wife, Emma Liu, left him, Mr. Mazurek said.

Mr. Qin got involved in the straw donor scheme in an effort to reconcile with Ms. Liu, who was politically active, Mr. Mazurek said. He argued that his client had paid for his mistakes with his time in the notoriously harsh Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Mr. Qin briefly addressed the judge through a Mandarin interpreter, apologizing for his actions through tears and saying he feared he would not be able to see his three children, who live in the United States.

Judge Azrack agreed with the prosecutors’ recommendation to release him with time served, and Mr. Qin was scheduled to be flown to an unspecified country just hours later. The question of which country remained under seal at his request, after he cited safety concerns. He had requested not to be sent to China, where he owes $450 million debt to three companies.

Federal prosecutors said in court papers that the campaigns had no knowledge of Mr. Qin’s straw donor scheme, carried out in 2021 and 2022, in which he asked others to contribute and agreed to reimburse them.

Hui Qin, in a photo from 2004, was arrested in October 2023.Credit…Xiong Tao/VCG via Getty Images

The other two campaigns were identified by two people with knowledge of the case as those of Representative Andrew Garbarino of Long Island and Allan Fung, a former mayor of Cranston, R.I., who ran for Congress. They are both Republicans, while Mr. Adams is a Democrat. Neither immediately returned a call for comment.

Mr. Adams has acknowledged having met Mr. Qin during his 2021 campaign, but has said he had no involvement in the donation scheme. The news outlet The City reported that Mr. Qin’s former wife, Ms. Liu, was a member of Mr. Adams’s Asian Affairs Advisory Council. Ms. Liu, a former model, and Mr. Qin donated $4,000 under their own names to the mayor’s 2021 campaign. Reached by phone, Ms. Liu declined to comment.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, Breon Peace, said in a statement that Mr. Qin had “learned a lesson in American civics the hard way, that no one is above the law.”

Mr. Qin once helmed a business empire in China that included a Beijing nightclub and film and entertainment companies, and he was included on the Forbes list of billionaires in 2018. His lawyer said he was a philanthropist who had donated to schools in China and in the New York area, where his wife and children had lived since 2010. He obtained his green card in 2019.

But his fortunes turned soon after that. In court papers, his lawyers blamed the sudden demise of his businesses on China’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown and said that had led to a “hostile divorce.”

In 2021, a Chinese arbitration panel ordered Mr. Qin to repay $450 million to his onetime business partners. A lawsuit to recoup the money is advancing in Manhattan federal court. In a decision late Wednesday, the judge in that case, Katherine Polk Failla, denied a bid by the plaintiffs to seize Mr. Qin’s passport to prevent him from leaving the country. The plaintiffs’ lawyers had argued that Mr. Qin would never be held accountable for his debt if he was allowed to leave the United States.

In a twist, Mr. Qin filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, just before a hearing in the civil case. He had already been held in contempt for violating court orders in that case, including concealing significant assets.

In a filing, lawyers for the investors argued that Mr. Qin “will have been rewarded for his defiance by being released to a foreign country to live a life of luxury with the assets he kept concealed from this court.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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