LOS ANGELES – Jury selection is expected to begin Thursday in the federal criminal trial of a hotel company, owned by a fugitive real estate developer, charged with bribing former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar in exchange for his official support of a downtown redevelopment project.
Shen Zhen New World I LLC, an entity owned by developer Wei Huang, is charged with bribing Huizar related to the L.A. Grand Hotel project. Huang, who is charged in the case, is believed to be in China and has never appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom in connection with the case.
The indictment charges the company with bribery in three forms: devising 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 bribery; and bribery itself.
Prosecutors contend that in 2010, Shen Zhen New World acquired the L.A. Grand Hotel, located in downtown Los Angeles, in the 14th council district, which was represented by Huizar. The then-councilman was also the chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, commonly referred to 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 city planning department to redevelop the L.A. Grand Hotel into a skyscraper featuring a mix of residential and commercial uses.
The indictment, filed in L.A. federal court, alleges that between February 2013 and November 2018, the company, acting through owner Huang, provided Huizar and his aide George Esparza with cash, casino gambling chips, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury hotels, expensive meals, spa services, escort services, political contributions, and a favorable loan.
Prosecutors allege that at the time Shen Zhen New World and Huang provided these benefits, it did so to influence the then-councilman to present motions and resolutions in various city committees to benefit the L.A. Grand Hotel project; vote on the project in the PLUM Committee and City Council; take action in the planning committee to expedite the approval process; exert pressure on other city officials to influence the approval process of the project; and introduce or vote on city resolutions that could enhance the professional reputation and marketability of Shen Zhen New World and Huang.
The company denies that anything that was provided to Huizar or Esparza was intended to influence any acts allegedly designed to benefit the L.A. 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 wide-ranging political corruption, was broken up 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 a labor organization’s appeal of their downtown Los Angeles development project and obstructing justice by falsifying financial documents.
Huizar and former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan are scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 21 on charges alleging they conspired to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The ex-councilman allegedly agreed to accept at least $1.5 million in illicit financial benefits and faces dozens of additional charges.
Esparza, the former aide to Huizar, pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge in the corruption probe at City Hall and is scheduled to be sentenced next June.
Huizar was suspended from the City Council two years ago and eventually replaced after he was charged in the wide-ranging 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 in the prosecution of his brother.