On this episode of Misfortune: A Financial Crimes Podcast, Adam and Danger discuss the strange life and history of disgraced Hillary Clinton campaign donor Norman Hsu. Listen and subscribe via iTunes – and if you like what you hear, please rate and review as well. We appreciate it!
Norman Hsu was born in Hong Kong in 1951 and came to the US at the age of 18, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen. He received a computer science degree from UC Berkeley and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. After graduating, Norman dabbled in several industries, but mostly focused on wholesale apparel. Despite a string of abandoned businesses, however, his friendly demeanor, polished appearance and prestigious degrees made it easy to continually attract new investors.
In 1989, he began courting investors to purchase latex gloves from a supplier, claiming that he had a contract to resell them to a major American business, and was able to raise more than $1 million dollars.
This began an especially tumultuous period in his life. The following year, he declared bankruptcy, got divorced, and was allegedly kidnapped in the Bay Area, possibly by duped latex glove investors. He caught a lucky break when police stopped the kidnappers’ vehicle for running a red light. One of the people in the car was Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a former gang member who was convicted in 2016 on multiple racketeering charges. At that time, Chow claimed that Hsu called him for help because he owed a lot of people money, and Hsu declined to press the matter further.
In I991, prosecutors charged Norman with grand theft, stating there was no evidence that he ever purchased gloves or had a contract to sell them. Rather, they alleged that he was paying off early investors with the money he raised from later investors. In February 1992, he pleaded no contest to the charge and agreed to serve up to 3 years in prison and pay a $10,000 fine. However, he was a no-show at the sentencing hearing later that year and an arrest warrant was issued.
It is believed he fled to Hong Kong, where he continued to form new businesses, but in 1998 was declared bankrupt once again by Hong Kong courts. In the late 1990s, he returned to the United States and lived in California and New York. Little is known about this period, except that he introduced himself as an “apparel executive” and was somehow able to afford a luxury apartment in Manhattan.
Norman was not a member of the Democratic party and was not registered to vote. Despite his 1992 felony conviction, he would technically have been allowed to vote. California and New York laws prohibit imprisoned and paroled felons from voting, but Ryan King, a policy analyst with the nonprofit Sentencing Project, is quoted as saying “he was in a gray area. He was eligible to vote until the moment he’s sentenced to prison or parole.”
In 2003, after making an initial donation to John Kerry, Norman quickly became known within the Democratic Party for his ability to raise large amounts of money by bundling campaign contributions. (For those not familiar with the concept of bundling, it is the practice of pooling donations from friends, family and associates for a campaign.)
It is believed that between 2003 and 2007, he raised over a million dollars for Democratic candidates and causes, with the bulk of that amount going to Hillary Clinton. Norman had pledged to raise at least $100,000 in bundled checks for her 2008 presidential bid, earning him “Hillraiser” status, and had personally donated over $23,000 of his own money over several years.
In June 2007, Orange County businessman Jack Cassidy emailed the California Democratic Party that Hsu’s investment operation may not be legitimate. Hsu had approached Cassidy’s friend with an opportunity that Hsu claimed offered 64% annual returns, but was vague on details about the business itself. According to the LA Times, after the party contacted the campaign about its concerns, a 23-year old campaign official responded via email, “I can tell you with 100% certainty that Norman Hsu is NOT involved in a Ponzi scheme. He is COMPLETELY legit.”
Toward the end of August 2007, The Wall Street Journal published results of its investigation into Norman Hsu, including his relationship with the Paw family of Daly City, California. The head of the Paw family household, William Paw, was a mail carrier earning approximately $49,000/year, and they had recently refinanced their 1280 square foot house for $270,000. Yet, despite the family’s modest income, it appeared that they had donated $213,000 to Democratic candidates between 2004 and 2007 through Hsu.
Shortly after The Wall Street Journal released the results of its investigation, authorities confirmed that Norman’s 1992 arrest warrant was still valid. On August 31, 2007, he surrendered at the district court house in Redwood City, California. His was only jailed briefly that day until his attorney posted the $2 million bail.
On September 5, Norman failed to show up for a bail reduction hearing and an arrest warrant was once again issued. The next day, he was arrested by the FBI at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado. He had initially boarded an Amtrak train headed for Denver, but was taken to the hospital after the train’s engineer radioed that a passenger had fallen and needed medical attention. According to a fellow passenger, a bottle of prescription drugs and pills were found scattered around his cabin. Prior to boarding the train, Hsu had reportedly communicated to associates that he was suicidal.
After his arrest, Clinton announced that she would return $850,000 in donations raised by Hsu. Hillary’s main rivals at the time, John Edwards and Barack Obama, were restrained in their criticism, as another individual had been recently indicted for donating illegal contributions to Edwards and Norman had previously donated generously to Obama’s political action committee.
However, in September that year, then Senator Obama introduced legislation to require federal candidates to reveal the names of bundlers who raised at least $50,00 for their campaigns during the 2-year period prior to Election Day. The legislation was never adopted, but Obama voluntarily released some of this information during his 2012 campaign.
On November 27, 2007, a federal grand jury in New York indicted Hsu on charges of violating federal campaign laws by illegally reimbursing investors for their political contributions and misleading investors by positioning his company, Companies Ltd. and Next Components Ltd. as short-term financing businesses. According the indictment, Hsu made “false promises of guaranteed high rates of return on investments in the short term, and providing guarantees on the long-term return of the principal investment.”
His victims testified that Norman leveraged his political connections to appear more legitimate in the eyes of potential investors, including playing a voicemail from Hillary Clinton for them.
Direct quote from the indictment – “As with all Ponzi schemes, Hsu constantly needed to lure more money and more investors into the scheme. To do this, Hsu raised his profile and his legitimacy in the eyes of investors by cultivating connections to preeminent politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Hsu’s victims testified that they were willing to invest in Hsu without conducting sufficient due diligence because they believed that politicians with whom Hsu associated had already vetted his integrity.”
On May 7, 2009, Norman pled guilty in federal court to ten counts of mail and wire fraud but denied illegally making campaign contributions in other people’s names. Later that month however, he was convicted of four counts of violating campaign finance laws.
On September 29, 2009, at the age of 58, he was sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison.