Former Assemblyman Jimmy Meng to Cop Plea in Fruit-Basket Bribery Case
A fruit basket is a lovely way to show appreciation. But when it's filled with $80,000 in cash, and it's in "appreciation" of bribing prosecutors, it's not a gesture of gratitude, it's a felony.
So goes the tragic tale of former Assemblyman Jimmy Meng -- the first Asian-American elected to the New York State Assembly will plead guilty this afternoon to bribery charges stemming from his dopey scheme to bribe prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to achieve a favorable sentence for a man accused of tax fraud.
The terms of the apparent deal are unknown. But, as initially charged, Meng faces up to 20 years in prison.
As we reported in August, Meng was indicted in July 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.
The fraudster, who is identified by the feds only as a "confidential witness" (CW), pleaded guilty in July 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."
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.
Again, the terms of the deal are currently unknown. But the former assemblyman is likely looking at some jail time.
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