LOS ANGELES (CN) – The liquor box delivered to a Los Angeles City Council member’s home by a city employee in March 2017 was not filled with spirits, but instead a $200,000 bribe from a developer who wanted a real estate project to move forward.
Justin Jangwoo Kim, a 53-year-old real estate appraiser and political fundraiser, pleaded guilty to coordinating that bribe for a developer’s project in the unnamed councilmember’s district, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
In communications, Kim referred to the councilmember as “boss” but took nearly half of a $500,000 payout that was meant to be paid from the developer to the councilmember, according to federal prosecutors.
A city staffer is also mentioned in the plea agreement, along with a developer and a labor union official, but Kim is the only one named.
The charging document says Councilmember A was also concerned with loyalty. Prosecutors say Councilmember A wanted one of his relatives to succeed them when his term ran out on the City Council – and expected Kim to be a major donor when the relative ran for office.
Councilmember A agreed to exert his influence as a member of the Planning and Land Use Committee to help a developer overcome an appeal filed by a labor group in 2016, federal prosecutors say.
Between August 2016 and July 2017, Kim facilitated the bribes from the developer to Councilmember A. By February and March 2017, Kim handed a city employee, referred to as City Staffer A-1 and who worked for Councilmember A, a paper bag that contained $400,000.
The money was delivered to the councilman’s home in a liquor box by the city staffer, but according to federal prosecutors Councilmember A asked the staffer to hold onto the money.
On multiple phone calls, Kim and City Staffer A-1 went back and forth expressing how loyal they were to Councilmember A and the relative who they wanted to succeed in taking over as a councilmember.
In an April 15, 2017, telephone call Kim told the city staffer, “But more importantly, [City Staffer A-1], your interests, my interests, that’s what I told everyone, alright? We want to make sure [Councilmember A’s relative] gets elected.”
Over the next few weeks, Kim reaffirmed his loyalty to Councilmember A and the city staffer replied, “Well, we got to, uh, protect the ship, right, from sinking itself.”
In another call, Kim said, “[W]e’re the most loyal guys” and City Staffer A-1 replied, “I think it’s important to tell [Councilmember A], like, ‘Look boss, we’re your loyal people.’…[W]e’ve showed our loyalty, you’ve showed your loyalty.”
During an interview with FBI agents in May 2017, Kim downplayed his close relationship with City Staffer A-1 and how often the two spoke. An agent told Kim there was an ongoing grand jury investigation into the corruption probe at City Hall and asked him not to discuss the interview. Kim agreed, but one hour later called City Staffer A-1 and said the FBI “know[s] exactly who you are,” and they had surveillance at City Staffer A-1’s local hangouts.
Federal prosecutors say Kim warned, “Don’t take our boss [Councilmember A] over there.”