By and  on September 19, 2007

WASHINGTON — Norman Hsu, the scandal-plagued fund-raiser tied to presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, has made much mileage out of his involvement in the fashion world — but his industry activities remain a mystery.

While the companies Hsu lists on his contribution forms no longer exist, if they ever did, his claim to a fashion background at least has some legitimacy — in the Eighties, he was an aspiring fashion executive trying to live out the American dream, driving around Los Angeles in a flashy sports car and attending to his men's wear import business.

There were signs, even then, that there was more than met the eye to the self-effacing Hong Kong native, whose most distinguishing feature was a nervous twitch. Associated with a number of men's sportswear companies that never gained critical mass, including H Two O Inc. and Laveno Sportswear, Hsu schmoozed with fashion reporters and carried himself with an assured air.

Most recently, Hsu allegedly used his fashion background in a sourcing scam, dropping names such as Prada and Gucci to attract millions of dollars from investors, who are now trying to recoup their funds. He also leaned heavily on his fashion background as he worked his way into the inner circles of Democratic presidential candidates, hobnobbing at fund-raising parties with people connected to the fashion industry.

Hsu's political and financial dealings are now the subject of state and federal investigations, and he is in custody, facing sentencing for an unrelated grand theft conviction in California and for skipping out of town when he was due to appear in court in Los Angeles.

Though not as dramatic as his recent downfall, Hsu exited his West Coast men's wear businesses with an equal flourish in the Eighties.

"I just remember he disappeared under very mysterious circumstances," said Michael Saylor, who was divisional merchandise manager at San Lorenzo, Calif.-based Grodins stores, which bought dress shirts from Hsu. "The wives' tale was there was a hit on him and that's why he beat it out of town, and we never heard from him again."

Prior to that, he was seen as a reliable vendor.

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