A federal prosecutor told a jury Thursday that a China-based hotel company owned by a fugitive real estate developer bribed former Los Angeles city councilman José Huizar with more than $1.5 million in cash, travel in private jets and “casino chips and prostitutes” in exchange. for his official support of a downtown redevelopment project, but the defense countered that city officials “universally adored” the project, so “there was no reason to bribe anyone.”
Shen Zhen New World I LLC, an entity owned by developer Wei Huang, is accused of bribing Huizar to ensure city authorities approve the LA Grand Hotel project, a 77-story mixed-use skyscraper project in downtown Los Angeles. Huang is believed to be in China and never appeared in a Los Angeles court in connection with the case.
“The flow of bribes turned into a flood” as Huang showered Huizar with gifts including a 10-day trip to Australia, golf resort tours, luxury suites, l money and private gambling in Las Vegas hotels, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Castañeda said. alleged in his opening statement.
Huang also allegedly provided Huizar and his special assistant George Esparza with a “range of prostitutes of their choosing” during the trips, the prosecutor said. “It would become a recurring theme on their travels together.”
However, Richard M. Steingard, co-lawyer of Shen Zhen New World, countered that even though Huizar took trips with Huang, the perks were freebies paid for by casinos to keep the billionaire developer – seen as a “whale” high turnover. ” in the game world — come back.
The trips “had absolutely nothing to do with the LA Grand Hotel redevelopment project,” and Huang never asked the then adviser “anything of substance” in return, Steingard told the jury.
Huang never asked for special favors or official support for his skyscraper project because city hall officials “universally adored” the concept, which would create countless jobs downtown, the lawyer claimed. .
“There was no reason to bribe anyone,” insisted the defense attorney.
Also, Steingard said, there is no evidence that Huizar took any action on the project.
The indictment charges Shen Zhen New World – whose two managers sat at the defense table – with bribery in three forms: bribery of a public official; interstate and foreign travel in support of corruption; and conceiving and participating in a scheme to defraud the City of Los Angeles and its citizens of Huizar’s Honest Services.
Federal prosecutors allege that in 2010, Shen Zhen New World paid $63 million to acquire the LA Grand Hotel, located 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 alleges that between February 2013 and November 2018, the company, acting through owner Huang, provided Huizar and Esparza with cash, casino chips, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays in luxury hotels, expensive meals, spa services, escort services, political contributions and a favorable loan.
Castañeda alleged in his opening statement that when Shen Zhen New World and Huang provided these benefits, they did so to influence the then city councilman to bring forward motions and resolutions in various committees of the city for the benefit of the LA Grand Hotel project; 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, through its attorneys, denies that anything provided to Huizar or Esparza was intended to influence any act designed to benefit the LA Grand Hotel redevelopment project.
The case against Shen Zhen New World 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 in federal court in Los Angeles.
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. He is about to testify against Shen Zhen New World.
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.