REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – A top Democratic fundraiser whose criminal past roiled the campaigns of top presidential candidates turned himself in Friday in California, where he had been a fugitive for more than 15 years.
Judge H. James Ellis ordered Norman Hsu handcuffed and jailed until he could post $2 million bail, which he did after spending about five hours behind bars. The judge declined Hsu's request to immediately reduce the bail by half, instead scheduling a Sept. 5 hearing to consider the request.
Hsu appeared in court Friday dressed in a suit and tie and accompanied by a lawyer and publicist.
Hsu pleaded no contest in 1991 to a felony count of grand theft, admitting he'd defrauded investors of $1 million in a bogus investment scam. He was facing up to three years in prison when he skipped town before his 1992 sentencing date, Deputy Attorney General Ronald Smetana said outside court.
Friday's 10-minute hearing in San Mateo County Superior Court was the culmination of a stunningly quick fall from grace for a disgraced California businessman who remade himself in New York as a benefactor of Democratic causes and candidates, including presidential contenders Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose campaign designated Hsu a "HillRaiser," the title given to top donors.
Federal Election Commission records show Hsu donated $260,000 to Democratic Party groups and federal candidates since 2004. Though a top fundraiser for Clinton, he also donated to Obama's Senate campaign in 2004 and to Obama's political action committee.
After reports surfaced this week of his fugitive status, politicians at all levels scrambled to distance themselves.
Obama's campaign said Thursday it would give to charity the $2,000 Hsu contributed to his 2004 Senate campaign and the $5,000 Hsu gave to his political action committee, Hopefund.
Hsu's $43,700 in donations to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $2,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also will go to charity, both groups announced.
Clinton joined the other candidates in returning $23,000 in contributions that Hsu made to her presidential and senatorial campaigns and to her political action committee, HillPac. But his close association with her campaign put Clinton on the defensive just as it prepared to ramp up for the intense post-Labor Day stretch.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also announced they would get rid of donations from Hsu, along with two of the state's Democratic House members, Mike Honda of San Jose and Doris Matsui of Sacramento. Among other California politicians who benefited from Hsu's fundraising were San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Earlier this week, Hsu said he thought the criminal charges had been taken care of when he completed his bankruptcy proceedings in the early 1990s.
"I have not sought to evade any of my obligations and certainly not the law," Hsu said in a prepared statement.
According to Smetana, Hsu told investors he had a contract to buy and sell latex gloves, but he never purchased the gloves and had no contract to sell them.
After he failed to show up for sentencing, investigators believed Hsu had fled to his native Hong Kong, Smetana said.
Smetana said he has agreed to let Hsu post $1 million cash bail, which will be used to reimburse the victims.
"He's trying to do the right thing," Hsu's attorney Jim Brosnahan of the blue-chip Silicon Valley law firm Morrison & Foerster said. Brosnahan, who was hired Thursday, said that the $1 million reimbursement pledge may sway a judge to give Hsu less time in prison than the three years originally planned.
Hsu admitted swindling 16 years ago.
A judge will decide whether to grant the bail reduction following the Sept. 5 hearing.
Smetana also said prosecutors are likely to again argue for a prison time when Hsu finally keeps his sentencing date with the judge. Smetana said it's likely Hsu will go to prison.
"He stole $1 million," Smetana said.