Dan Tang's Toxic Political Money

June 20 2009, 1:33 PM

In 2005, then-Senator Wayne Allard offered high praise to Dan Khau Tang, the popular owner of Heaven Dragon restaurant in Arvada, for being named the Small Business Administration's Small Business Owner of the Year. "Dan Tang is a true American success story. He is a role model for hard-working small business owners across the country who are creating their own American dream, " Allard said in remarks for the Congressional Record. In addition to his business success, Tang is known for glad-handing with top political figures, including former U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, now the secretary of state, as photographs from his restaurant website illustrate. In 2003, he gave $2,000 to help re-elect George W. Bush, and he famously served the former president his renowned Peking duck, leading Bush to send Tang a personal letter expressing appreciation for the "kind gesture and thoughtfulness." The donation to Bush was a small one in a long list of more than $50,000 in contributions--extended to numerous high-ranking Colorado politicians as well--since 2002 from the self-made Chinese-American. Now, the money appears to have come from illicit sources. Federal agents have seized $1.8 million from Tang for his alleged role in helping fund a pot-growing and distribution network that included members of his family and restaurant employees. Tang was charged Thursday with one count of felony money laundering and faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado, in a case that could decimate Tang's hard-won empire.

As recently as January 2008, Tang was giving to local campaigns--$2,000 to Congressman Mike Coffman, a Republican who represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District, according to election data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. But in late March 2008, Coffman returned the contribution. "It's really simple," Coffman chief of staff Jacque Ponder explained Friday morning in an interview with 5280. "When the story first broke, he just decided to give back the money." Records show Coffman's campaign returned the cash on March 31, 2008, about three weeks after a CBS4 report revealed investigators suspected Tang of wrongdoing in the aftermath of a Drug Enforcement Administration bust that roped in several drug suspects, including Tang's brother. Tang, at the time, denied any connection. Attempts to reach Tang for comment at his restaurant yesterday were unsuccessful. Though he favored Republicans, Tang, once a poor refugee from China who made a name for himself in Colorado, also gave to a few Democrats. In 2006, for instance, he gave $2,000 to then-U.S. Representative Mark Udall, now a Democratic senator for Colorado. Tara Trujillo, a spokeswoman for Udall, tells 5280 that Udall is now considering returning Tang's money: "We're watching this case closely. If the allegations are proven true, we will donate the money to a charity."

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