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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Here are the people, developers and projects the FBI is investigating relating to Councilman Jose Huizar probe

The scope of the investigation includes 13 people with ties to developers and elected officials
By Dennis Lynch | January 16, 2019 05:21PM

From left: Jose Huizar and Huang Wei (Credit: Getty Images)

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who led the powerful Planning and Land Use Committee, has been in the hot seat since early November. That’s when the FBI raided his home and office at City Hall. While the reasons remain unclear, over the weekend, a search warrant related to the investigation became public, revealing the scope of the investigation went far beyond Huizar.

The warrant showed that federal agents had permission to seize documents related to more than a dozen individuals, two real estate development firms, and a pair of large development projects downtown that are in Huizar’s Council district. The agents are seeking evidence of possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.

The people named in the warrant include major players at City Hall, such as Councilman Curren Price; and Raymond Chan, a former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. They also include the chief of staff to Council President Herb Wesson and a former deputy mayor to Mayor Eric Garcetti. It also names executives or representatives of major Chinese developers working in Downtown L.A.

While Chan appears to be the main subject of the search warrant, it doesn’t mean he is the focus of the investigation. No one named in the search warrant has been accused of any crime.

Former city staffers have alleged that in years past, Huizar instructed aides to lobby developers for donations to his high school alma mater, Bishop Mora Salesian High School. Real estate companies that donated to the school included Greenland USA, Related Companies, and construction firm Skanska. The FBI has not confirmed if it is investigating those donations as part of its probe.

The following list is includes those named in the FBI’s search warrant.

City officals

Raymond Chan, former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (retired June 2017).

Chan worked for the Department of Buildings and Safety for 33 years, including two years as the department’s general manager. Chan’s name appeared in a 2012 L.A. Weekly investigation into alleged corruption at the city Department of Buildings between 2005 and 2012. The report implied that Chan covered up a complaint about an alleged corrupt building inspector.

He spent a year as Deputy Mayor of Economic Development. In announcing Chan’s retirement, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office said Chan’s “leadership has contributed to unprecedented growth across Los Angeles — including visible transformations in Downtown and Hollywood that have positioned L.A. as a 21st century global city.”

Curren Price, Council member for the 9th District

Price was first elected to the City Council in 2013, but has also served as a state Assembly member and state senator. Price has pushed to reduce fees and speed up the development process for affordable housing development. He supported and helped negotiate the South Los Angeles Community Plan, passed in 2017, that allows the building of 15,000 new housing units over the next two decades in South L.A. and Southeast L.A.

George Esparza, former aide to Councilman, Huizar who left his office in January 2018.

Esparza told the Los Angeles Times that Huizar instructed employees to work on an annual fundraising event for his alma mater, Bishop Mora Salesian High School, at a time when Huizar’s wife Richelle was working as a fundraiser. That raises legal questions, because state law prohibits government officials from using public resources for the benefit of private interests.

“We frequently made calls to ask for money and other donations for Salesian on his behalf, and we did so both off and on city time because he thought that it would help advance his agenda,” Esparza told the Times in November.

Lincoln Lee, former Chief of LADBS’ Code Enforcement Bureau

Lee retired in 2016, according to LAist. He had worked at the city Department of Buildings since 2000.

Shawn Kuk, Planning Director for Huizar

Kuk has worked for Huizar since August 2015, according to a LinkedIn profile. Before that, Kuk was a city planner at the Department of City Planning for eight years.

Deron Williams, Chief of Staff to Council President Herb Wesson

Williams has been Wesson’s chief of staff since at least 2007, but has been involved in city politics for far longer. He got his start as a low-level staffer for Councilman Nat Holden in 1988 and slowly worked his way up the ranks. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Council seat in 2003. Williams regularly represents Wesson at community meetings.

Joel Jacinto, Commissioner at the L.A. Board of Public Works

Garcetti appointed Jacinto lead commissioner for the board’s Bureau of Engineering in 2015. Before that he served on the Affordable Housing Commission and was executive director of Search To Involve Pilipino American, a community organization based in Historic Filipinotown that provides health and human services to the local community.

Ave Jacinto, independent marketing and sales consultant

Between 2004 and 2016, Jacinto worked as global sales coordinator for the company that owns the Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissotel hotel brands. She’s been an independent consultant since 2017, according to a LinkedIn profile.

Developers

Wei Huang, president of the Shenzhen New World Group

Wei’s company purchased the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown in 2010 and the Sheraton Universal hotel near Universal Studios in 2011. The Shenzhen, China-based firm did not reveal any development plans until June 2018, when in a two-day span it filed for a 77-story mixed-use skyscraper at the Marriot Downtown site and a 31-story hotel tower at the Sheraton Universal property. The latter is one of the biggest projects filed last year because of its 551 rooms.

The search warrant gives the FBI permission to seize any documents in Chan’s Google accounts related to the “Sheraton Universal Hotel” and “Shenzhen New World Investment, Inc.”

Ricky Zheng, Shenzhen New World LLC executive

Available details on Zheng are scant. The L.A. Times found that he was identified as an executive for Shenzhen New World in state campaign contributions records.

Fuer Yuan, founder of Shenzhen Hazens Real Estate Group Company Limited

Yuan founded Shenzhen Hazens in Shenzhen, China, in 1996. The company recently completed a hotel in San Gabriel, but made its big splash in 2014 when it purchased the Luxe City Center hotel in South Park for $105 million. Two years later it revealed plans to redevelop the site with three towers — a hotel, a rental tower and a condo tower. That was later reconfigured to two towers in response to community input. The City Council approved the project in 2017.

Yuan is also a director of Legend Strategy International Holdings Group and owns Hehui International Development.

Mason Situ, general manager at Shenzen Hazens

Situ discussed his company’s decision to reconfigure the Luxe City Center project from three towers to two towers in a May 2017 article in L.A. Downtown News, saying it was trying to address community concerns. He appears to have been involved in the company’s San Gabriel hotel development, praising a deal with Starwood Hotels & Resorts to brand the hotel the Sheraton San Gabriel.

George Chiang, Shenzhen Hazens

Chiang’s exact role at Fuer’s company isn’t clear. But he appeared as a representative for the Luxe City Center Hotel redevelopment project in city documents dating from 2017, which were unearthed by the L.A. Times.