A former Queens assemblyman has been arrested on a federal wire-fraud charge, accused of attempting to solicit bribes from a state court defendant in a scheme involving cash hidden in a fruit basket, authorities said Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Jimmy Meng, 68, the first Asian American elected to the state legislature in 2004, was first approached by the defendant in 2011, when he was charged with state tax crimes. The defendant was seeking advice and assistance from Meng.
Meng, who lives in Bayside, allegedly told the defendant that he could arrange a lesser sentence for the defendant if he paid $20,000 to each of several assistant district attorneys in the DA's office.
The defendant began working with the FBI and recorded telephone calls and meetings with Meng as he discussed the bribery scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Authorities said the conversations were conducted in Mandarin and subsequently translated into English by law enforcement authorities.
Meng allegedly instructed the defendant, described by federal prosecutors only as a cooperating witness, to collect $80,000 in cash and conceal it in a basket of fruit. In a recorded phone call on July 17, Meng told the cooperating witness to prepare the money and deliver it to Meng's lumber yard in Queens, federal authorities said.
"Give it to me and I will give it to them," he allegedly said, referring to the assistant district attorneys.
The witness met with Meng Tuesday in the lumber yard under the surveillance of FBI agents, and handed over the fruit basket containing the cash, authorities allege. After Meng allegedly accepted the fruit basket and cash, FBI special agents moved in and arrested him.
"Jimmy Meng sought to be a power broker in the halls of justice," said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. "But the influence he sought to peddle was corrupt, and his power was illusory. This arrest confirms that justice is not for sale."
There were never any assistant district attorney in the DA's office working with Meng in a bribery scheme, authorities said.
"As the FBI investigation found, the defendant made an absurd and unfounded claim, and we thank our federal partners for their aggressive investigation into this case," Erin Duggan, spokeswoman for Manhattan DA Cy Vance, said in a statement.
If convicted of wire fraud, Meng faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
A message was left with the federal defender representing Meng.
Meng was elected to the Assembly in 2004 and served only one term. His daughter Grace Meng later won her father's seat. She is running for the congressional seat vacated by Gary Ackerman earlier this year.
Grace Meng said in a statement she is "shocked and deeply saddened by these allegations."
"Prior to this afternoon's reports, I had no knowledge of my father's actions or the investigation," she said in a statement. "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."
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