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03/09/98- Updated 01:56 PM ET

Fund-raiser Chung OKs tell-all deal

LOS ANGELES - Johnny Chung, once a frequent visitor to the White House as a Democratic campaign fund-raiser, was arraigned Monday on charges of making illegal campaign contributions.

U.S. Magistrate Virginia Phillips, who said she understood Chung would be pleading guilty, ordered the 43-year-old Taiwanese-born businessman to appear March 16 to enter his plea in federal court.

He agreed to surrender his passport and restrict his travel to California and Washington with one possible exception - a trip to Toronto to visit his ailing parents.

Chung answered solemnly, "Yes, your honor," to a series of questions about whether he understood his rights and the agreement he made.

The Torrance businessman has agreed to plead guilty to charges that include funneling $20,000 in illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Chung actually contributed more than $400,000 to Democratic causes and candidates between 1994 and 1996. The reduced amounts in charges against him are the result of a tell-all plea bargain negotiated between Chung's lawyer and federal prosecutors.

A federal source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chung had agreed to cooperate with the government probe in return for leniency. He is the first major figure in the campaign finance scandal to offer cooperation.

Sentencing is expected to be delayed for some time while the campaign finance probe continues. His sentence will be contingent on how much information he is able to provide and whether it is found to be useful, the source said.

Technically, he could face 37 years in prison and $1.45 million in fines, but plea bargains ordinarily involve a request for substantially reduced penalties.

Chung, who is now a U.S. citizen, was charged Thursday in U.S. District Court with violating federal campaign finance law, tax evasion and bank fraud.

Chung was accused of setting up "straw donors" who wrote campaign donation checks, then were reimbursed by Chung in order to skirt contribution limits.

Chung is the fourth person charged in the last five weeks in the Justice Department's probe into finance abuses during the 1996 campaign.

"This investigation is moving forward, but we are not going to let up now," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

Chung visited the White House on about 50 occasions in recent years, at least once escorting a delegation of Chinese businessmen who wanted to watch President Clinton deliver his weekly radio address. Chung repeatedly was photographed with the president and first lady.

He has said that in 1995 he was solicited for money by a White House staffer and delivered a $50,000 check to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's office.

The Chung contributions were returned after questions arose about their legality.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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