Lawyer seeks plea agreement for Taiwanese official

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The lawyer for a Taiwanese economic representative said Wednesday he has been working on a possible plea agreement for his 64-year-old client, who has been jailed since her arrest last week on a federal labor violation.

Hsien-Hsien Liu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, was arrested Nov. 10 at her Johnson County, Kan., home and charged with fraud in foreign labor contracting. An FBI affidavit filed in the case said Liu was accused of underpaying a housekeeper hired from the Philippines, keeping her isolated and making her work 16- to 18-hour days. Liu faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Jim Wirken, Liu’s attorney, said Wednesday that he has been in contact with federal prosecutors about a possible agreement and that he is seeking “a result in this case sooner instead of later.”

“I’ve had very good and open discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Wirken said, adding that the talks have covered “what both sides think would be a viable option.”

The prosecutor’s office didn’t immediately return a phone call to The Associated Press seeking comment.

Prosecutors have said they believe Liu is the first foreign official to face the fraud in foreign labor contracting charge in the United States. Others have been prosecuted for mistreating domestic workers, but Liu is accused of violating a law covering the recruitment of foreign workers and their transport into the United States on fraudulent terms.

Wirken said the court entered a not guilty plea for Liu last week, and that has not changed. He has also met with an attorney and government representatives from Taiwan, who have come to Kansas City to monitor Liu’s case.

“I think their level of anxiety is, first of all, someone has been arrested and she’s in custody, and I think they’re wanting to be sure that she gets the very best service that they can get,” Wirken said. And, he said, the representatives are “trying to minimize whatever damage might come between the relationship of the U.S. and Taiwan.”

Prosecutors said Liu’s Kansas City office maintains unofficial relations between the United States and Taiwan and is similar to a foreign government consulate, although the U.S. doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.

Officials with the U.S. State Department declined comment Wednesday, but pointed to remarks that spokesman Mark Toner gave Monday in a daily briefing. Toner said in the briefing that he could not comment specifically on the charges against Liu because it’s an “ongoing legal matter.”

Toner also said Liu would have a form of diplomatic privilege that would give her immunity to prosecution “only for acts performed within the scope of her authorized functions.”

The FBI affidavit filed in the case claimed TECO, the office Liu worked for, recruited the housekeeper in the Philippines in September 2011. According to the woman’s visa application, her two-year employment contract called for her to be paid $1,240 a month, work 40-hour weeks and be entitled to overtime.

Prosecutors claim the woman was actually paid $400 to $450 a month, worked 16- to 18-hour days and was monitored with video surveillance equipment at Liu’s home in Johnson County, Kan. They also say Liu took the woman’s passport and was “verbally abusive.”

“I think she’s disappointed, upset that she embarrassed herself and her country potentially,” Wirken said of Liu.

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