LOS ANGELES — Jury selection is set to begin Thursday in the federal criminal trial of a hotel company, owned by a runaway real estate developer, accused of bribing former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar in exchange for of its official support for a downtown redevelopment project.
Shen Zhen New World I LLC, an entity owned by developer Wei Huang, is accused of bribing Huizar in connection with the LA Grand Hotel project. Huang, who is charged in the case, is believed to be in China and has never appeared in a Los Angeles court in connection with the case.
The indictment accuses the firm of corruption in three forms: conceiving and participating in a scheme to defraud the city of Los Angeles and its citizens of Huizar’s Honest Services; interstate and foreign travel in support of corruption; and corruption itself.
Prosecutors allege that in 2010, Shen Zhen New World acquired the LA Grand Hotel, located in downtown Los Angeles, in the council’s 14th district, which was represented by Huizar. The city councilor at the time was also chairman of the planning and land use management committee, commonly known as the PLUM committee, which oversaw commercial and residential development projects in the city.
In June 2018, Shen Zhen New World filed an application with the Planning Department to redevelop the LA Grand Hotel into a high-rise combining residential and commercial uses.
The indictment, filed in federal court in LA, alleges that between February 2013 and November 2018, the company, acting through owner Huang, provided Huizar and his assistant George Esparza with money, casino gambling chips, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury hotels, expensive meals, spa services, escort services, political contributions and a loan advantageous.
Prosecutors allege that when Shen Zhen New World and Huang provided these benefits, they did so to influence the then city councilman to bring motions and resolutions in various city committees for the benefit of the LA Grand project. Hotel ; vote on the project in the PLUM committee and in the municipal council; take action within the planning committee to expedite the approval process; lobby other city officials to influence the project approval process; and introduce or vote on municipal resolutions that could improve the professional reputation and marketing of Shen Zhen New World and Huang.
The company denies that anything provided to Huizar or Esparza was intended to influence any act allegedly designed to benefit the LA Grand Hotel redevelopment project.
The case against Shen Zhen New World and Huang is part of the sprawling July 2020 racketeering indictment against Huizar and various associates. The 34-count indictment, alleging large-scale political corruption, was split into three trials.
Previously, real estate developer Dae Yong Lee and one of his companies were convicted of federal criminal charges for providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving the appeal. a labor organization regarding their downtown Los Angeles development project and obstructing justice by falsifying financial records.
Huizar and former deputy mayor Raymond Chan are due to stand trial on February 21 for conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The former councilman reportedly agreed to accept at least $1.5 million in illicit financial benefits and faces dozens of additional charges.
Esparza, Huizar’s former aide, pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge in the city hall corruption investigation and is expected to be sentenced next June.
Huizar was suspended from the city council two years ago and eventually replaced after being charged in the sweeping federal investigation. His older brother, Salvador, recently pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about receiving envelopes of cash from the former councilman and agreed to help prosecute his brother.