LA City Hall Corruption Probe Snares Ex-Deputy Mayor

Los Angeles City Hall. (Courthouse News photo / Chris Marshall)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Federal prosecutors pulled back the curtain on an ongoing corruption probe at Los Angeles City Hall, revealing charges Monday against a former deputy mayor and two businessmen accused of bribing former Councilman Jose Huizar for favorable votes on downtown development projects.

Monday’s charges follow months of indictments and plea agreements into a corruption investigation that has centered around Huizar.

Co-conspirators, former aides that acted as liaisons to business developers and former Councilman Mitch Englander have either been charged or pleaded guilty over their involvement in the bribery scheme.

On Monday, federal prosecutors charged former LA deputy mayor Raymond Chan on suspicion of bribery, federal racketeering and lying to investigators. Before being appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to oversee economic development in 2016 and 2017, Chan was in a chief position with the LA Department of Building and Safety. 

Authorities say Chan accepted $100,000 in bribes from Chinese developer Shenzhen Hazens and its subsidiary Jia Yuan USA. He is also accused of sending talking points to Huizar in 2013 in an effort to keep his department from being merged with another city agency so he could keep his powerful position.

News of drew quick and decisive outrage from Garcetti.

“The behavior outlined in this indictment is reprehensible, and Mayor Garcetti is disgusted to learn that Mr. Chan and the others charged were allegedly involved in this effort to defraud the people of our city,” Garcetti’s spokesperson Alex Comisar said in a statement. “Abhorrent conduct like this severely damages the public’s trust in government, and there can be absolutely no place for it. The mayor hopes that anyone found guilty in this matter is punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

Monday’s superseding indictment also includes charges for Wei Huang — a wealthy Chinese developer and owner of the L.A. Grand Hotel — who authorities say gave Huizar $600,000 to help settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former city employee.

On other occasions, Huang offered Huizar and some of his associates luxurious trips to Las Vegas and on one trip gave Huizar $65,000 in casino chips according to the 138-page superseding indictment unsealed on Monday.

Huang, previously identified as “Chairman E” in court documents, faces charges of bribery, honest services fraud and Travel Act violations.

Prosecutors say he paid Huizar over $800,000, and in exchange Huizar signed a letter on official letterhead to the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China, in support of a visa application for an employee of an affiliate of Huang’s company.

According to prosecutors, Huang also asked Huizar to help his son apply to college and arrange a meeting with a union representative over a dispute related to the LA Grand Hotel. He also asked Huizar to recognize him for his business achievements and developments in the downtown LA core — a resolution that was adopted and signed by the City Council.

Huang’s U.S. company Shen Zheng New World I, which purchased the LA Grand Hotel in 2011 for $90 million, is also named in the indictment.

Another developer, Dae Yong Lee, is accused of giving Huizar and Huizar’s former aide George Esparza $500,000 to help resolve a labor dispute for a development project. That bribery agreement was detailed in the charging documents against Justin Kim, a former Huizar fundraiser who pleaded guilty to a federal bribery offense. Esparza pleaded guilty this past May to racketeering charges and federal prosecutors said he too received bribes from Huang.

Lee’s company, which was used to purchase a downtown property in 2008 for $9 million, was also named in the superseding indictment.

U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna from the Central District of California said the four-year pay-to-play scheme at City Hall turned Huizar’s council “seat into a money-making criminal enterprise.”

“The scope of corruption outlined in this indictment is staggering,” said Hanna in a statement.

Huizar was removed from office after being arrested this past June on charges of accepting at least $1.5 million in bribes. He pleaded not guilty and goes to trial in 2021 on 34 federal counts.

A federal grand jury indictment alleges 402 overt acts committed by Huizar and his co-conspirators, which the superseding indictment adds 50 accusations of overt acts to the racketeering count. Huizar will be arraigned on the new accusations on Dec. 7.

Five men have taken plea deals in the ongoing investigation.

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