“If something goes wrong, my life will become miserable,” Flushing’s Jimmy Meng allegedly said in a wiretapped conversation that led to his arrest Tuesday on federal fraud charges.
Meng’s prophecy came true that day when he was arrested outside the lumber yard he owns, allegedly taking a fruit basket filled with $80,000 in cash. The former assemblyman faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
He was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court and released on $1 million bond.
Meng, 68, is the father of Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who is running for the newly created 6th Congressional District seat against Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran of Whitestone. Halloran declined to comment on the arrest.
In a statement to the media, the assemblywoman tried to distance herself from her father: “I am 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. 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.”
The senior Meng, who was the first Asian American elected to serve in the Assembly, was arrested on a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly soliciting the $80,000 from a person seeking a lesser sentence in a Manhattan state tax case. Authorities say that Meng falsely claimed that he would use the money to bribe prosecutors, but the government’s investigation revealed no evidence that he contacted anyone in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and that he planned to keep the money for himself.
“Jimmy Meng sought to be a power broker in the halls of justice,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “But the influence he sought to peddle was corrupt and his power was illusory.”
According to the federal complaint, last year an individual was indicted in Manhattan for state tax crimes. That person reached out to Meng, who allegedly said that for a fee he could bribe several assistant district attorneys to lessen the sentence to one year, which is below the two- to six-year term offered by the DA.
But the individual told authorities and from December to this month recorded conversations with Meng that the FBI says implicate the former assemblyman in the case. His final instruction from Meng was to place the bribe money in a fruit basket and deliver it to him at his business, Queens Lumber Co. on College Point Boulevard, the government alleges.
After Meng accepted the basket, he was placed under arrest by FBI special agents. Following his court appearance, the defendant told reporters: “I didn’t do anything. I don’t believe you guys should even report this.”
Meng, 68, who lives in Bayside, emigrated to the United States from Taiwan more than 30 years ago. He has been a partner in the lumber company for more than 20 years.
Meng was a founder and served as president and later chairman of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. He also was a board member of the Queens Library and chairman of the Asian-American Coalition of Queens.
He served one term in the Assembly from 2004 to 2006, citing back problems for not running again.
Fred Fu, who succeeded him as president of the FCBA, said Wednesday he was surprised about the accusations. “I don’t know what to say,” Fu said. “This is not good, but he did a lot of things for the community when he was president of the FCBA from 1996 to 2000.”
Terence Park, leader of Our Flushing Political Coalition, said he was “deeply saddened” about the arrest. “It won’t affect Grace Meng’s candidacy,” Park added. “She has plenty of support.”
According to the Daily News, after Jimmy Meng was arrested, authorities tried to pressure him to cooperate and wear a wire himself to help with their ongoing investigation into a corruption case. He refused.
The daily said the case could refer to an alleged fundraising conspiracy in City Comptroller John Liu’s run for mayor. But several people contacted in Queens said they found it hard to believe Meng wouldn’t help in the case.
“He and Liu have been political enemies for years. Why would Jimmy not cooperate for a lesser sentence?” one individual asked.
Others questioned why Meng would stoop to such a crime, especially since he owns a successful business.