A San Mateo County Superior Court judge today allowed attorneys for jailed Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu to postpone arguing their case to dismiss Hsu’s 1992 conviction for grand theft.
State prosecutors described the case as a Ponzi scheme involving the sale of latex gloves that defrauded about 20 investors of nearly $1 million. Hsu had originally faced 16 counts of grand theft and pleaded no contest to one count in 1991, later failing to appear for his sentencing in 1992, where he faced up to three years in state prison.
Hsu and his attorneys appeared briefly this morning in Redwood City in the courtroom of Judge Stephen Hall, Hsu glancing somewhat nervously back at an audience of journalists before seating himself.
After a brief conference between the attorneys in the judge’s chambers, both sides agreed to postpone today’s hearing until Jan. 4. Hsu, 56, remains in San Mateo County Jail on a no-bail status.
“That is the date certain that these motions will go forward,” Hall said, without elaborating.
Hsu’s attorney Jim Brosnahan argued in his motion that even though Hsu never appeared for his sentencing and turned himself in 15 years later, prosecutors did not make an effort to apprehend him and the charges should be dismissed because Hsu is entitled under the Sixth Amendment to a speedy trial.
Brosnahan has also filed a motion to withdraw Hsu’s no-contest plea on the grounds that the sentencing judge who accepted the plea has since retired, and sentencing by a different judge would violate the terms of the plea agreement, he argued.
A third motion by Brosnahan is requesting that Hsu’s $2 million cash bail, which he forfeited for failing to appear for a Sept. 5 hearing, be returned.
Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Ron Smetana is opposing all three motions, and has said he would like Hsu’s bail to be reserved for restitution to the victims in the case.
According to Brosnahan, following his failure to appear for sentencing in 1992, Hsu went to Hong Kong for several years, later returning to the United States, where he became “a regular fixture at political and philanthropic fundraisers throughout California and New York,” Brosnahan said in court documents.
Hsu “lived an open and public life,” Brosnahan said, and no efforts were made to arrest him, despite the availability of public information, including online searches, he said.
“We’re doing more research, these things take time,” Brosnahan said outside the courtroom. “The state has waited 15 years, so waiting more time is not a problem for anybody, including Mr. Hsu.”
“He certainly never acted like a fugitive,” Brosnahan added.
“If you read [the defense’s] points and findings,” Smetana said, “It suggests we should have been checking the business indexes in Hong Kong.”
“At the time Mr. Hsu fled in 1992, it was a different world,” Smetana said. “You couldn’t ‘Google’ people.”
“As far as I can tell, Mr. Hsu only became visible in 2003,” Smetana said, arguing the burden on authorities didn’t arise until then.
Asked if his refusal to oppose the postponement today indicated a possible plea bargain in the works, Smetana declined to answer.
“I expect the motions to be denied,” Smetana said. “There are things we still need to look in to. If we can resolve them, we need to do that.”
Smetana added that is was unlikely Hsu’s original sentencing judge would be brought back from retirement just to rule on this case.
“It seems inappropriate to allow a defendant to flee and then come back and say, ‘I’m back, where’s my judge?” he said.
In a separate federal complaint unsealed Sept. 19 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, Hsu is charged with $60 million Ponzi scheme involving high-end apparel from China. That case is expected to pick up upon resolution of Hsu’s San Mateo County case.
Hsu is estimated to have personally contributed at least $260,000 to the Democratic Party, and reportedly raised larger sums by bundling contributions from other donors, including $850,000 for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Clinton’s presidential campaign has since returned the money.
— Bay City News