LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge in Los Angeles ordered a mistrial in the corruption case against a former deputy mayor for economic development after the defendant's lawyer fell ill last month and wasn't able to continue to defend him.
U.S. District Judge John Walter on Thursday agreed to call a mistrial, citing recent declarations from Raymond Chan's lawyer, Harland Braun, and his doctors that the 80-year-old attorney won't be able to resume work until August of September at the earliest.
Braun, a veteran defense attorney who has represented the likes of Roman Polanski and Robert Blake, fell ill and was hospitalized on March 2, in the middle of Chan's trial. The former deputy mayor stands accused of racketeering conspiracy and bribery, among other charges, over his suspected role in a widespread City Hall corruption scandal.
The judge gave Chan until April 24 to retain a new lawyer.
Chan, 66, is the final defendant to go on trial in the rampant corruption and racketeering scheme led by former City Councilman José Huizar.
He's accused of aiding and abetting Huizar's pay-to-play scheme whereby real-estate developers had to provide the councilman bribes and other favors for their projects in downtown LA to make it through the city's approval process. Chan, who was the head of the Department of Building and Safety before becoming deputy mayor in 2016, stands accused of putting two deep-pocketed Chinese developers in touch with Huizar to facilitate the bribery scheme.
Huizar, who had been scheduled to go on trial with Chan, agreed to plead guilty in January and faces up to 13 years in prison under the terms of his plea deal, though the actual sentence will be decided by the judge.
One of the Chinese developers Chan allegedly introduced to Huizar, Shen Zhen New World, was found guilty at trial in 2022 of paying more than $1 million in bribes to Huizar. The other Chinese developer, Shenzhen Hazens' domestic subsidiary Jia Yuan USA, paid a $1 million fine as part of nonprosecution agreement with the Justice Department in 2019. A local LA developer was found guilty last year of paying a $500,000 bribe in exchange for Huizar's help with a downtown real estate project.
At the start of Chan's trial in February, prosecutors said Chan acted as a middleman between the Chinese developers, who were seeking to get their projects approved during a building boom in downtown LA, and Huizar.
Braun told the jury in his opening statement that his client had no power to control what projects received approval in downtown LA and, as head of Building and Safety, did everything the way he was supposed to, including enforcing the building code against one of the developers he's now accused of bringing into Huizar's bribery scheme.
"They don't know what they're talking about," Braun said, referring to the prosecution. "They don't understand building and safety."
According to Braun, Chan disapproved of the lavish gambling trips to Las Vegas that Huizar went on with Wei Huang, the billionaire chairman of Shen Zhen New World, which put the FBI on the trail of the corruption scheme, and never joined them on those trips. Braun also denied that Chan had anything to do with a $600,000 payment from Huang to Huizar to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit by one of Huizar's staffers.
Unlike most other defendants in criminal cases, Chan will testify in his own defense, Braun told the jurors.
"You're going to hear witnesses that lie, you're going to hear witnesses that dissemble, and finally you're going to hear Ray Chan who'll tell you the truth," Braun said. "He's going to establish without any doubt that he's innocent."Follow @edpettersson
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.