Taiwanese envoy admits guilt in labor fraud case

A Taiwanese envoy pleaded guilty this morning in Kansas City federal court to one count of fraud in foreign labor contracting in connection with the mistreatment of a housekeeper.

Hsien-Hsien Liu, 64, also paid $80,044.62 in restitution to that housekeeper and a former housekeeper, who she also admitted underpaying. Liu will be sentenced later, after a presentence report is completed, but she is expected to be deported upon sentencing, federal officials said today.

Though James Wirken, Liu’s lawyer, had hoped that she also would be sentenced Friday to time served, he said afterward he was not disappointed that U.S. District Judge Greg Kays had elected to have a sentencing report prepared first. The case still is moving quickly, said Wirken, who became Liu’s lawyer just six days ago.

“The federal court wants to make sure it does this case right; right by the government, right by the victims and right by the defendant,” Wirken said. “I was pleased we were able to get this done.”

Wirken said he had received assurances that federal probation officers would “expedite” the preparation of the sentencing report. Though such reports sometimes can take three months to prepare, Wirken hopes it can be finished in a couple of weeks.

Under the terms of Liu’s binding plea agreement, should Kays not agree that time served is an appropriate sentence, Liu would be permitted to withdraw her guilty plea and prepare for trial or some other resolution.

Liu allegedly brought her most recent housekeeper here from the Philippines, took her passport, stole wages that she had agreed to pay under a contract, threatened her with deportation and kept her in virtual isolation in Liu’s home.

“The defendant did not intend to comply with the terms of this contract,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Cordes said during the hearing.

Liu also acknowledged under oath that her actions related to the housekeepers was not related to her official government position, which may have qualified her for some diplomatic immunity.

“Did you do this in your official capacity or as a private individual,” Kays asked at one point in the hearing. “Did you use your title when you signed your name (to the contract)?”

“No,” Liu replied.

Liu, who lives in Overland Park and said she obtained her a masters degree from Truman State University, serves as an official representative of the Taiwan government in the Midwest. Her arrest last week outside a woman’s restroom near her Kansas City office sparked immediate calls from Taiwanese officials for her release.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City is one of 13 in the United States responsible for maintaining ties between Taiwan and the United States. Because the United States does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, Liu was not granted diplomatic immunity.

Unlike a hearing earlier this week, in which Liu was allowed to appear unshackled and dressed in street clothes, she was dressed Friday in jail scrubs and bound hand and foot. Wirken said he had requested that she be permitted to wear street clothes, but that Kays had decided that she be treated no differently from any other defendant in pre-trial detention.

Liu’s sister, Irene, also attended the hearing, sitting with reporters in the gallery and remaining composed throughout the proceeding. She did not speak with journalists afterward.

According to federal officials, both housekeepers have been certified as victims of human trafficking and would be eligible for visas that would allow them to remain and work in the United States legally.