LOS ANGELES (CN) — Two real estate developers accused of bribing a Los Angeles City Council member in a sprawling corruption scheme won their bids for jury trials separate from the main culprit.
U.S. District Judge John Walter at a hearing Monday agreed with the developers, David Lee and Shen Zhen New World, that there was a significant danger of prejudice by a joint trial with former Councilman Jose Huizar, who stands accused of soliciting bribes to facilitate the developers' projects in downtown LA.
Specifically, Walter found federal prosecutors had failed to show a single bribery scheme, rather than a number of separate ones, and that the evidence against Huizar would dwarf that against the developers.
"The risk of prejudice is high and it's unlikely that a jury would be able to compartmentalize the various schemes," Walter said.
Lee and his 940 Hill LLC are scheduled to go on trial first in June, followed by Shen Zhen New World in August.
Huizar, 53, served as downtown LA's representative on the City Council from 2005 to 2020, a period that saw an unprecedented development boom in the area with foreign money pouring into ambitious residential and hotel projects. He also chaired the city's influential Planning and Land Use Management Committee until November 2018, when the FBI raided his offices and home.
According to the government's indictment, Huizar and his cohorts sought a $1.2 million bribe from Lee in 2017 to resolve an appeal by a labor organization that was blocking Lee's planned mixed-use development on Hill Street. Lee countered with a $500,000 cash offer, and in exchange Huizar got the appeal dropped. Huizar's part of the cash was handed to him in a liquor box, but the councilman asked his aide, who has since pleaded guilty, to hold on to it for when he needed it.
The other developer, China-based is Shen Zhen New World and its chairman, Wei Huang, stand accused of wining and dining Huizar in Las Vegas to gain his assistance in a proposed project in downtown LA. Prosecutors say Huang gave Huizar $600,000 disguised as a loan to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit by a staffer,
In January, Walter denied Huizar's request to suppress evidence obtained through the original search warrant, prompted by a casino employee's report that a public official had his Las Vegas gambling sponsored by a Chinese billionaire, which opened the doors to the investigation.