A close aide to Comptroller John Liu has said she offered to reimburse people for donations to the comptroller's campaign for mayor. As the aide was forced to testify at the fraud trial of two former campaign associates on Thursday, Liu jumped to her defense. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.
Sharon Lee has worked for City Comptroller John Liu since 2006 and now works for his mayoral campaign.
On Thursday, Lee was forced to testify at the fraud trial of Liu's former campaign treasurer and a former fundraiser. Jenny Hou and Oliver Pan are accused of a straw donor scheme, where people would allegedly donate to the comptroller using someone else's money.
On the stand, Lee said she offered to reimburse five people, all friends and family, for donations to the comptroller back in 2011.
She told the court, "It was to convey the importance of the campaign to me. My friends and family are not politically active."
Lee and her lawyer would not take questions outside of court. But on the stand, Lee said she knew it was wrong, but at the time she did not know how bad it was to make the offer.
When Liu was asked about Lee's testimony at a senior event in the Bronx, the comptroller defended her, saying, "Sharon is a very valued member of my team and she is an exceptional individual, and she has told the truth. I believe she has told the truth and in fact it's my understanding that this isn't any information that was discovered about her. From the get go, this was information that she volunteered to the authorities."
In court, prosecutors pointed to a 2011 photo where Lee is shown at the table in Hou's apartment, preparing documents for a campaign finance deadline in 2011.
They cited extensive online conversations, like one instance where Lee says, "So what if an unscrupulous committee got 100 people and had them all contribute 100 each? 10k? Shady."
Lee testified she was talking about a hypothetical straw donor situation.
Liu said his campaign has always been above board.
"They might try to tie all sorts of things together, but at the end of the day I am very proud of the way my campaign has conducted itself," the comptroller said.
Lee was one of the last witnesses to take the stand for the prosecution. Next week, the defense will get its turn to prove its side of the case.