Posted on: December 1, 2020, 04:13h.
Last updated on: December 1, 2020, 05:15h.
The sprawling corruption case centered around a $1.5 million pay-to-play scheme allegedly masterminded by Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar took a new twist Tuesday, as new defendants were added to the mix.
Federal authorities announced the unsealing of new indictments against five individuals and companies accused of complicity in the case. These include former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan and a billionaire Chinese property developer and casino high roller named Wei Huang.
Huizar and others are accused of accepting bribes from property developers in return for favorable treatment on downtown real-estate development projects.
The councilman was arrested in June and charged with a 34-count indictment that alleged violation of the antiracketeering RICO Act, as well as bribery, honest services fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion, among other crimes. A 41-count superseding indictment unsealed Monday alleges 452 overt acts have been committed by Huizar and his conspirators to further their criminal enterprise.
Former Huizar aide and City Councilman Mitchell Englander has already pleaded guilty in the case, as has a City Hall lobbyist and two real estate consultants.
Chan, identified in previous court filings only as “Individual 1,” has been charged with RICO conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud, and lying to federal agents, according to Monday’s indictments.
Wei is chairman of the Shenzhen New World Group, also indicted, which in early 2018 paid $60 million for Los Angeles’ Sheraton Universal Hotel. It also owns the LA Grand Hotel Downtown, which it wants to develop into a new 77-story hotel tower, the tallest skyscraper west of Mississippi. That project, now on hold, needed sign off from Huizar and Chan.
Wei was previously known in court filings simply as “Chairman E.”
‘Operation Casino Loyale’
The investigation into Huizar and his accomplices, dubbed “Operation Casino Loyale,” was triggered in 2015 when authorities in Las Vegas noticed the councilman cashing out serious money in casino chips that belonged to Wei.
The billionaire is accused of showering more than $800,000 on Huizar and others during numerous trips to Las Vegas casinos. Wei even gave Huizar cash to settle a sexual harassment case brought against the councilman by a former aide.
The scope of corruption outlined in this indictment is staggering,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “As the indictment alleges, Huizar, Chan and their network of associates repeatedly violated the public trust by soliciting and accepting numerous cash bribes and other financial benefits, turning Huizar’s City Council seat into a money-making criminal enterprise.
“Powerful developers, operating through well-connected lobbyists, eagerly participated in the schemes to get preferential treatment for their downtown projects,” he added. “This detailed indictment, which lays bare these backroom deals, should prompt a serious discussion as to whether significant reforms are warranted in Los Angeles city government.”