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Prominent LA developer sentenced to 4 years for bribing county official

The sentence was well below the government's request, which sought to send a message to fight systemic corruption in LA County.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The co-owner of one of the biggest private commercial real estate businesses in Southern California was sentenced to four years in federal prison following his guilty plea to bribing an LA County official to win a $45-million lease for one of his properties.

Arman Gabaee, 61, was also ordered to pay $1.15 million at his sentencing hearing Thursday.

U.S. District Judge George Wu imposed a prison term well below the 9-year sentence the government had asked for, observing that it would be Gabaee's first stint in custody and that there was little concern that he would engage in criminal activity after his release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson pleaded unsuccessfully for more prison time, arguing that a low sentence would send the wrong message to the defendant and the community that people who have a lot of money were able to get off lightly when they break the law.

"This isn't a fraud case, it's a corruption case," Dotson told the judge. "Corruption is systemic in this county."

Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in LA have been bringing a series of high-profile corruption cases against public officials in recent years, including members of the City Council, executives at the LA Department of Water and Power and the wealthy business people who have been paying millions in bribes in exchange for support with their real-estate projects.

Gabaee is the co-owner of the Charles Company, a large commercial real estate investment and development with dozens of projects in Southern California. He personally has a stake in 115 different properties. One of the company's projects was a 1-million square foot disused mall in Hawthorne, part of which was leased to the LA County Department of Public Social Services.

The developer admitted that he bribed the county official to have the county sign a long-term lease at an adjacent property so that he could redevelop the Hawthorne Mall into a state-of-the-art mixed facility and outlet mall.

"This was an isolated situation I'm very ashamed of," Gabaee told the judge in the courtroom packed with his family and friends. "I'm sincerely sorry for what I have done."

From about 2011 to April 2017, Gabaee, professionally known as Gabay, funneled monthly payments to Thomas Shepos, who worked at the county's real estate division and who was involved in awarding contracts to developers and contractors. In exchange, Shepos provided Gabaee with county leases, preferential contract terms and nonpublic information, according to the government.

By 2017, Shepos had started to cooperate with the FBI and secretly recorded his conversations with Gabaee. At that time, Gabaee offered to buy Shepos a million-dollar home in Northern California in exchange for Shepos’ help in securing a county lease at the mall in Hawthorne that Gabaee was redeveloping.

A representative of LA County gave a victim impact statement at Gabaee's sentencing hearing, debunking the notion that the county hadn't been harmed by his criminal conduct. In fact, according to the representatives, not only had the public trust's been undermined by the bribery scheme, the county will have to spend millions of dollars to relocate from offices it leases from Charles Company because it can't do business with a criminal.

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