Hsu sentenced to three years in state prison

Former Democratic rainmaker, accused swindler and fugitive Norman Hsu will serve three years in state prison for the San Mateo County grand theft charges that triggered his 15 years on the lam, a judge ruled Friday.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hall handed down the sentence after refusing to throw out Hsu’s 1992 fraud conviction.

Hsu’s attorneys argued unsuccessfully that their client should be allowed to withdraw his no-contest plea to one count of grand theft because of the length of the delay in sentencing, the years in which federal authorities failed to pursue him and the fact that the judge originally assigned to the case had retired.

Hall said he was not swayed by the arguments and that throwing out the conviction would be a “tremendous unfairness” to the investors defrauded by Hsu in what prosecutors described as a Ponzi scheme. About 20 people were conned out of a collective $1 million in the San Mateo County case.

“Mr. Hsu knew of the pending case against him and fled the jurisdiction of the court,” the judge said. “His conduct in causing the delay weighs heavily against him.”

Outside of court, Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Ron Smetana said he was gratified by Hall’s decision.

Half of Hsu’s $2 million forfeited bail will be used as restitution to his victims. Federal authorities will seize the remaining $1 million.

Hsu’s attorney, James Brosnahan, said he would appeal the sentence. Hsu was living a very public life, didn’t change his name and had a presence on the Internet while prosecutors claimed he was a fugitive, Brosnahan said.

The sentencing was a step in what could be a long legal journey for the 56-year-old. He now faces federal fraud charges in New York in connection with an alleged $60 million Ponzi scheme.

The ruling could increase the possible punishment if Hsu is found guilty of those charges, since the New York judge will likely consider Hsu’s prior record, Smetana said. If he is found guilty, he will be able to serve both sentences concurrently.

Hsu, who raised funds for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and other major Democrats, turned himself in Aug. 31 after his fugitive status was revealed. But he failed to show up for his Sept. 5 hearing and was arrested a day later after reportedly trying to kill himself on a Colorado train.

Timeline of events:

» 1991: Facing 16 counts of grand theft in San Mateo County, Hsu pleads no contest to one count of grand theft in a plea deal that would have resulted in three years in prison.

» 1992: Hsu fails to appear at his sentencing, allegedly flees to Asia.

» 2007: Media reports reveal that Hsu, who has resurfaced in the U.S. as a successful Democratic fundraiser, is a fugitive.

» Aug. 31, 2007: Hsu is booked in San Mateo County after turning himself in.

» Sept. 5, 2007: Hsu fails to show up at a hearing, fleeing the state.

» Sept. 6, 2007: Hsu is arrested in a Colorado hospital after a reported suicide attempt on an Amtrak train.

» Sept. 19, 2007: Hsu agrees to extradition to San Mateo County.

» Sept. 20, 2007: Hsu arrives back in the Bay Area and is sent to the Redwood City jail.

» Sept. 21, 2007: Hsu appears in court, bail status reset to no bail.

» Nov. 2, 2007: Hearing about Hsu’s conviction postponed.

» Friday: San Mateo County judge rejects defense attorney’s motions to withdraw the no- contest plea, sentences Hsu to three years in prison.

» What’s next: Federal authorities will order Hsu’s transportation to New York, where he will face federal fraud charges in connection with an alleged $60 million Ponzi scheme.

tbarak@examiner.com

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