A Taiwanese envoy whose conviction in Kansas City on a federal human trafficking charge sparked diplomatic tensions was ordered deported Friday.
Hsien Hsien Liu, who led Taiwan’s mission in Kansas City, pleaded guilty in November to fraud in foreign labor contracting, admitting that she had mistreated and underpaid a Philippine housekeeper in her Johnson County home.
Liu, 64, paid $80,044 in restitution to that housekeeper and a previous housekeeper, whom Liu also admitted underpaying.
U.S. District Judge Greg Kays also ordered Liu to pay a $11,040 fine. Of that, $4,714 would cover the 78 days she spent at a jail in Leavenworth and $6,326 would pay the costs of her deportation, including her own airfare and that of any federal agent escorting her.
Her attorney, James Wirken, said Liu could be headed home early next week.
In a statement at the hearing, Liu said she would live with a guilty conscience the rest of her life.
“Your honor, I’m extremely regretful for the people I’ve hurt, the laws I have broken and the mistakes I made,” Liu said. “I was wrong.”
In a written statement read by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Cordes, one of the housekeepers, a 47-year-old woman, said she came to the Kansas City area to make money to send back to her children in the Philippines. Instead, Liu began underpaying her, forcing her to work long hours and berating her.
Liu took her passport and visa and threatened her with deportation if she complained, wrote the housekeeper, who has remained in Kansas City.
“I endured this treatment because my kids, my family back home, need the money,” she wrote. “And I couldn’t tell my kids how much I was suffering.”
Bambi Shen, who identified herself as a friend of Liu’s, said after the hearing that the envoy had been caught in an unfortunate misunderstanding with her housekeepers.
“I think everything has been exaggerated by the workers,” Shen said. “I knew (Liu) as a very gentle person.”
Wirken and prosecutors had hoped that she would be deported soon after her plea hearing. But Kays said he wanted more time to review the customary pre-sentence report before announcing Liu’s sentence. Since then, Kays has received information on the condition of the housekeepers and assurances that they were properly notified that they could speak at Friday’s hearing.
The second housekeeper returned to the Philippines but, like the other woman, agreed that deportation and restitution was a just resolution of the case, Cordes said.
Kays said the victims’ agreement to support the plea bargain was the most critical element in his decision to accept it. Respect for human rights is the “very essence” of the U.S. Constitution, Kays said, explaining why he took his time to review the case.
“I hope that you have seen our Constitution at work here,” Kays said.
Liu’s arrest initially caused tensions between the U.S. and Taiwanese government over the issue of whether she possessed diplomatic immunity. Wirken said he determined that Liu would lose that issue, and prolong the case, if they decided to fight it.
Cordes said the Taiwan government is planning its own investigation of Liu’s conduct when she returns.
When news of Liu’s arrest first broke in November, the story dominated Taiwanese media. About a dozen Chinese reporters and camera crew members attended a routine, and mostly uneventful, federal court hearing Nov. 18.
Coming in the midst of a Taiwanese presidential election, commentators there debated whether the government was adequately protecting its diplomats abroad. Others said Liu’s conduct, only alleged at the time, reflected poorly on a country that prided itself on its human rights record.
On Friday, about a half-dozen Chinese reporters covered Liu’s sentencing. Journalists said interest in the story had cooled back home because the presidential election had concluded and Liu had waived any claim to diplomatic immunity. And John Zang, Washington bureau chief for CTI TV in Taiwan, said some reporters who would have covered the hearing were back home, enjoying the 15-day celebration of the Chinese New Year.