Chinese Company Convicted of Fed Charges for Bribing Ex-Councilman Huizar

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Chinese real estate company was found guilty Thursday of federal charges for bribing former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar with over $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for the then-councilman’s support of a planned hotel project in downtown L.A.

Shen Zhen New World I LLC faces a multi-million dollar fine at sentencing on Jan. 23. Although he was also charged, company owner Wei Huang fled to China after charges were announced and has never appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom in connection with the case.

The trial was one of three separate proceedings arising out of a 34- count indictment against Huizar and his associates alleging wide-ranging political corruption centered around the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, commonly referred to as the PLUM Committee, which oversaw commercial and residential development projects in the city and was headed by the ex- councilman.

In the final case of the series, Huizar and ex-Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan are scheduled to go to trial in February on dozens of federal counts, including racketeering.

After about three hours of deliberations, a Los Angeles federal jury found Shen Zhen guilty Thursday of the eight counts it was facing, including honest services wire fraud, interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Federal prosecutors have convicted a total of nine defendants along with receiving over $3 million in criminal penalties to resolve their investigation into two other major real estate development companies, a result of Operation “Casino Loyale,” the ongoing corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In the first Huizar-related trial, a federal jury in June found Bel Air real estate developer Dae Yong Lee and his 940 Hill LLC company guilty of felony charges, including fraud and bribery, for providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of their downtown Los Angeles development project. Their sentencing hearings are also set for January.

Evidence presented at the Shen Zhen trial showed that the company — on behalf of its owner — purchased the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, located in the 14th City Council District, whose representative at that time was Huizar. As part of his role on the council, Huizar oversaw major commercial and residential development projects in the city.

In June 2018, Shen Zhen filed an application with the Los Angeles City Planning Department to redevelop the L.A. Grand Hotel into a 77-story skyscraper featuring a mix of residential and commercial uses.

From February 2013 to November 2018, Shen Zhen, acting through Huang, provided Huizar and aide George Esparza with cash, casino gambling chips, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury Las Vegas hotels and casinos, expensive meals, spa services, prostitution services, political contributions, and a $600,000 loan for Huizar to confidentially settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former staffer that threatened his re-election.

The jury found that the benefits provided to Huizar were intended to secure his approval of the L.A. Grand Hotel redevelopment project, a project the developers said would have been the tallest such structure west of the Mississippi River.

The company’s attorneys argued that the proposed development was “universally loved” at City Hall because of the jobs, tax revenue and prestige it would bring — so there was no reason to bribe anyone.

On Monday, Huizar’s older brother testified of a money laundering scheme in which the then-councilman gave him bundles of cash in exchange for checks written on his own account. Salvador Huizar is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about receiving cash from his brother.

Jose Huizar’s estranged wife, Richelle Rios, also testified this week, telling jury of finding “stacks” of bundled hundred-dollar bills hidden around the house which were apparently given to her husband by Huang.

She recalled discussions centered around Huang’s offer to help provide a loan to the ex-councilman in order to settle the sexual harassment lawsuit. With Huang’s help, Jose Huizar obtained a favorable $600,000 loan to resolve the suit and was re-elected, according to federal prosecutors.

The indictment charged Huang and Shen Zhen with bribery in three forms: bribery of a public official; interstate and foreign travel in support of bribery; and devising and participating in a scheme to defraud the city of Los Angeles and its citizens of Huizar’s honest services.

Esparza pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge in the corruption probe at City Hall and is scheduled to be sentenced next summer.

Huizar was suspended from the council two years ago and eventually replaced after he was charged in the wide-ranging federal investigation.

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