Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Hui Qin, one-time billionaire resident of Old Westbury, ordered removed from  U.S. after pleading guilty in straw donor campaign scheme

Must read

A Chinese business owner who lived in Old Westbury was to be removed from the U.S. by federal law enforcement Thursday evening after admitting to immigration fraud and making straw donations to political campaigns, including those of the New York City mayor and a Long Island Congressman.

Hui Qin, 56, a one-time billionaire and the operator of the now-defunct SMI Culture, a Hong Kong-based movie theater chain and entertainment production company, was also forced to relinquish his permanent residency status at his sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack in Central Islip.

Qin pleaded guilty in March to making campaign contributions in the names of others, immigration fraud and producing a false identification document, according to court records. A source familiar with the investigation told Newsday the donations were made to the campaigns of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Long Island Congressman Andrew Garbarino, and former Rhode Island Congressional candidate Allan Fung.

Asked for comment, Vito Pitta, an attorney for to the Adams campaign, issued a statement saying, “The prosecutors in this case explicitly stated that the Adams campaign had no knowledge of the scheme, nor has the campaign or Mayor Adams been accused of wrongdoing in any other case.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Chinese business owner who lived in Old Westbury will be removed from the U.S. by federal law enforcement Thursday after admitting to immigration fraud and making straw donations to political campaigns, including those of the New York City mayor and a Long Island congressman.
  • Hui Qin, 56, a one-time billionaire and operator of the now-defunct SMI Culture, a Hong Kong-based movie theater chain and entertainment production company, was also forced to relinquish his permanent residency status at his sentencing.
  • Qin pleaded guilty in March to making campaign contributions in the names of others, immigration fraud and producing a false identification document.

Garbarino did not return a request for comment.

Qin, who faced between 8 and 14 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, was given an agreed-upon sentence of time served after spending the past seven months at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City.

“Any time there is very hard time,” Azrack said, noting that Qin has already nearly reached the low end of the guideline sentence.

An emotional Qin, who used tissues to wipe away tears throughout the proceeding, apologized for his actions, which included lying on forms establishing permanent residency and while obtaining a driver’s license using an alias in Miami. Qin’s former wife and their two children will remain in Old Westbury as he is removed from the United States to an undisclosed country — not China — under what his attorney described as an elaborate plan.

“The most painful choice for me is that I’ve lost my most beloved kids,” Qin said through a Mandarin interpreter.

Henry Mazurek, an attorney for Qin, told Azrack he hopes his client “finds the peace that has eluded him over the years.”

Mazurek described Qin as a “self-made business owner,” a billionaire who cracked the Forbes Top 20 before his empire came crashing down among a series of poor decisions made around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mazurek said Qin, who also had a residence in Manhattan, had raised more than $200 million from investors to take his 3,000 movie-theater chain, which he described as a Chinese equivalent of AMC, public in 2020. The financial fallout from pandemic-era lockdown restrictions cost Qin his fortune and his marriage, leading to a series of lawsuits from investors across the globe when the chain never did go public, Mazurek said.

Between December 2021 and December 2022, according to prosecutors, Qin agreed to reimburse individuals who made campaign contributions on his behalf to Adams, Garbarino and Fung.

Qin’s straw donors made approximately $11,600 in contributions on his behalf, without the knowledge of the campaign committees, prosecutors have said. The campaigns filed false contribution reports with the Federal Election Commission in 2022 as a result of Qin’s actions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley King said.

Mazurek said Qin’s straw-donation scheme was created in an effort to impress his politically active former wife.

Qin also admitted in March to filing a false application for lawful permanent resident status in April 2019 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He swore in his application, under penalty of perjury, that he had never used another name. Prosecutors said a People’s Republic of China official provided Qin with the alias Muk Lam Li between 2008 and the filing of his residency application.

Qin obtained identification documents, including a Hong Kong identification card, a Chinese identification card and a Hong Kong passport in the name of the Li alias, which contained Qin’s photograph, prosecutors said. In or around September 2017, Qin used the Li alias to transfer more than $5 million from China to a United States bank account. He used some of those funds to buy a luxury Manhattan apartment, prosecutors said

Mazurek said he established the false identity to avoid public scrutiny, as a famous business owner in China.

His notoriety drew attention from other Chinese nationals, some of whom attended Thursday’s sentencing.

Linhui Wang, 51, of Smithtown, described Qin’s fall from grace as an emotional moment for the Chinese people, who once celebrated his improbable business success. An IT analyst for Stony Brook University Hospital who has never met Qin, she wanted to see the sentencing for herself.

“He had traumas in his life and I think he made mistakes. He will pay for his mistakes,” Wang said. 

With Michael O’Keeffe

Latest article