By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
The $80,000 Fruit Basket
When an alleged tax cheat—and convicted federal bank fraudster—went to former Queens assemblyman Jimmy Meng in December of 2011, he asked if there was anything the former lawmaker could do to get the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to offer him a more lenient plea deal in his ongoing tax-fraud case. Meng agreed, and according to federal authorities, told the man it would cost him $80,000 needed to bribe several prosecutors working the case.
Thanks to Meng, it appears the fraudster was able to land an acceptable deal from prosecutors—only it didn't end up costing him a dime, and it led to Meng holding a fruit basket full of cash before getting hauled away in handcuffs by federal authorities.
Meng was indicted last week on fraud charges stemming from the alleged bribery scam. What makes the case somewhat comical is that no bribery ever took place; those "prosecutors" Meng claimed he planned on bribing don't exist. His plan apparently was just to pocket the fraudster's $80,000.
The man Meng allegedly planned to scam is the person who tipped off federal authorities about the fake bribery scam, leading to a months-long federal sting operation that came to an end with Meng's July 24 arrest—and was the grounds for the plea deal that the alleged tax cheat received from federal prosecutors and likely will receive from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
The fraudster, who is identified by the feds only as a "confidential witness" (CW), pleaded guilty last week to federal bank-fraud charges pursuant to a "cooperation agreement" and plans to plead guilty to the state charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office says, which indicates he has been offered a deal at the county level, too. (However, neither the Manhattan District Attorney's Office nor the U.S. Attorney's Office would discuss the terms of any such deal with the Voice.)
To make things even worse for the former assemblyman, he had the audacity to call the CW minutes after he was released on $1 million bail from jail—a phone call prosecutors found out about almost immediately and which prompted Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak to tell the former Queens assemblyman that "if you do it again, you're going to go into jail. Because if I find out that the witness feels intimidated, you're going into custody."
And did we mention that Meng's daughter is running for Congress? Because she is—Assemblywoman Grace Meng is this year's Democratic nominee for New York's Fifth Congressional district. She found out about the charges against her father while celebrating her son's birthday at Chuck E. Cheese.
The sting operation began almost immediately following the elder Meng's initial December meeting with the CW. Over the course of several months, federal authorities—with the help of the CW—recorded multiple conversations between the two men.
In one conversation, Meng told the man that if he received a sentence longer than two years in prison, he would return the money—with the exception of a $2,000 "errand fee."
"I'll be responsible," Meng told the man, according to a criminal complaint obtained by the Voice. "If [sic] didn't get it done for you, right? Over three years, right? Over two years, right? Then just charge you $2,000—$2,000 for running errands, and the rest . . . will be returned to you completely."
Meng allegedly then told the man to gather the $80,000 and hide it in a fruit basket that he would pick up, noting that to ensure the bribe scheme remain a secret, he "can never say in the future that Jimmy Meng helped me find people."
According to the complaint, on or about July 17, Meng called the man and told him to get the money together and deliver it to a lumberyard owned by the former lawmaker. Meng allegedly told the man "give it to me, and I will give it to them," presumably meaning the nonexistent corrupt prosecutors.
On July 24, the fruit basket full of cash was delivered to Meng at his lumberyard as federal authorities watched. He was taken into custody moments after accepting the basket.
Grace Meng's opponent, Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran, has declined comment on the arrest. (Halloran is known to Voice readers as the Heathen leader who has played down his pagan religion since being elected to the council.)
Grace Meng says the arrest will not derail her campaign, and offers the following statement:
"I am shocked and deeply saddened by these allegations. Prior to [the] reports, I had no knowledge of my father's actions or the investigation. I am independent of my father—always have been, always will be. Until more facts emerge and we have a better understanding of the situation, the only thing further I'll say is that I urge my father to fully cooperate with all authorities."
If convicted, Jimmy Meng faces up to 20 years in federal prison.