A Mount Pleasant scientist is expected to testify against her estranged husband next week after pleading guilty Friday to making illegal contributions to the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
U.S. District Judge Weston Houck accepted GenPhar scientist Danher Wang’s plea and reserved sentencing for a later date.
Wang, 53, pleaded guilty under an agreement with prosecutors that likely limits her maximum punishment to two years in prison and a $200,000 fine.
The government accused Wang and her estranged husband, embattled GenPhar founder Jian-Yun Dong, of conspiring to make at least $31,000 in illegal donations to Graham and his political action committee. They allegedly used straw donors and cash from a foreign national to get around federal campaign donation limits, prosecutors said.
Dong is accused of persuading Reinhard Huebner, a German shareholder in GenPhar, to transfer $36,000 from a Frankfurt bank account in three payments to Dong, his wife and a company worker. Dong and Wang then recruited conduits, including their minor daughter, family members and other GenPhar employees, to donate that money to Graham in their names, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore said Wang acted at the urging of Dong, whose trial is scheduled to begin Monday in Charleston. “She did what her husband told her to do,” he said.
Dong, 55, also faces charges in a separate indictment accusing him of stealing $3.6 million in federal grant money intended for research on vaccines for the deadly ebola and Marburg viruses. Authorities say he used the money to pay for lobbying and to entertain a mistress in China, among other things. He is expected to be tried at a later date on those charges.
Wang, who could testify in that case as well, said little in court Friday beyond answering the judge’s questions about her understanding of the plea.
Moore said Wang does not admit to knowing that her actions were illegal, but she does acknowledge that she knew of and turned a blind eye to donation practices she had been told were against the rules, he said.
Moore said Dong and Wang embarked on the plan in 2006 in the hope of securing the senator’s help in winning federal grants for their disease-fighting firm.
Graham is not accused of any wrongdoing. Graham’s office and federal prosecutors have maintained that Graham has cooperated with investigators and that he had no knowledge that the donations were suspect at the time they were made.
Still unclear is whether Graham will be called to testify at Dong’s trial.
Prosecutors and Dong’s attorney, James Mixon Griffin, were working late Friday to hash out an agreement stipulating Dong’s fundraising activities on behalf of Graham and the senator’s efforts promoting GenPhar’s endeavors. Such an agreement would likely negate the need for Graham to testify.
A proposed agreement acknowledges the actions of each man but spells out that there is no evidence of a donations-for-funding arrangement between them. Houck told the attorneys he has no problem granting a subpoena to haul Graham into court as a witness if necessary, but he would prefer not to waste the senator’s time if his testimony isn’t relevant.
Graham’s office declined to comment on the matter Friday. Graham has previously said he went to bat for GenPhar because he saw potential to protect America’s troops from deadly viruses, not to bring in campaign dollars,
Wang signed an agreement with the government this month in which she agreed to plead guilty to using at least one straw donor and foreign cash to make illegal campaign contributions. In return, prosecutors will drop other counts against her. Wang must continue to cooperate with authorities and testify in court, if necessary.
Dong, a native of China, has blamed the campaign finance violations on his unfamiliarity with this country’s election laws.