Chinese Businessman Qin Pleads Guilty to Straw Donor Scheme

(Bloomberg) -- A Chinese businessman who lives in the US pleaded guilty to charges he made $11,600 in illegal campaign contributions in a New York City race and to congressional candidates in New York and Rhode Island.

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Qin Hui, the owner of SMI Holdings Group Ltd., an investment holding company that operates movie theaters in China, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court on New York’s Long Island. Qin, 56, admitted that he gave other people money to make contributions in their names rather than his.

While the candidates weren’t identified, Federal Election Commission records show that a Qin Hui made a $2,800 donation in to Allan Fung, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from Rhode Island in 2022. Prosecutors said the New York Congressional candidate was a sitting US Representative from the Eastern District of New York judicial district, which includes Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, as well as Suffolk and Nassau counties.

The New York city candidate was described only as “Public Official 1” by prosecutors. But campaign finance records show Qin donated to only one candidate in 2021: $2,000 to Eric Adams, who is now the mayor. Last year, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged six people in a separate alleged scheme to divert tens of thousands of dollars in public money to the Adams campaign months before his election. The mayor wasn’t implicated.

“I know who he is,” Adams said of Qin Tuesday at a news conference. “I’ve met him before, but I think we need to be very clear, as we saw over and over again in these straw donor cases, the one that happened in the Manhattan district attorney and the one that happened here, a lot of people read over the fact that the US attorney stated that this was not done with the campaign’s knowledge.”

A lawyer for Qin, didn’t return voicemail and email messages seeking comment about the plea. Qin faces as long as 27 years in prison when he’s sentenced May 14, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors said Qin caused the three campaigns to unwittingly file false finance reports with the Federal Election Commission in 2022. The donations were made without knowledge of the campaign committees, prosecutors said.

Qin, who has a residence at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and in Old Westbury, about 20 miles outside the city, also pleaded guilty to fraudulently applying for a Green Card and a Florida driver’s license.

He’s been in US custody since October when a federal magistrate in Long Island ruled he was a flight risk because of his “substantial wealth” and because he had threatened his ex-wife. She was a potential witness against him in an unrelated federal civil fraud case in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

--With assistance from Mia Gindis.

(Updates with comment from Mayor Adams in the fifth paragraph.)

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