A bombshell plea deal involving a former real estate broker that the federal government unsealed Wednesday suggests a years-long trail of bribery between City Councilmember Jose Huizar and a Chinese development firm with a megaproject slated for downtown Los Angeles.
The announcement is the most explosive revelation in the unfolding FBI investigation into corruption in city hall that centered around Huizar — former chairman of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management committee — and a handful of downtown developers.
Under the plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, George Chiang, a 41-year-old who spent eight years as a broker in the San Gabriel Valley, admitted to one count of federal racketeering.
According to federal prosecutors, Chiang started a real estate consulting company in 2014 called Synergy Alliance Advisors that directed money, consulting fees, casino chips, flights on private jets, luxury hotel stays, prostitutes and escort services between developers and City Council members and staff.
Chiang allegedly was part of a criminal enterprise to funnel $66,000 and lavish trips to China and Hong Kong to an L.A. councilman — believed to be Huizar — in exchange for approval of an 80,000-square foot commercial project and other downtown developments.
A message left with Huizar Wednesday was not immediately returned.
Attempts to contact the development firm, Shenzhen Hazens Real Estate Group, at its Century City office were not successful.
The complaint does not mention the names of the principal council member or company involved in the bribe scheme, referring to them only as “Council Member A” and “Company D.”
But the allegations strongly suggest Huizar, noting that the company was dealing with the chair of the planning committee, which Huizar led during the time of the alleged bribery, between 2014 and 2018.
The complaint also refers to a familial succession plan for Huizar’s Council spot. Huizar had been preparing his wife, Richelle Huizar, to succeed him. That plan unraveled after the FBI raided Jose Huizar’s office in November 2018.
As for the unnamed development project, the allegations against Chiang specify the project be 80,000 square feet with a 300-key hotel, and hundreds of condo units. That matches the record for the planned development by Shenzens Hazen, which went through the city approval process in 2017.
Shenzens Hazen was one of several China-based developers named in the November 2018 FBI search warrant into bribery of city officials that also included Greenland Group and Oceanwide.
The federal investigation had been quiet for months, but that all changed in recent weeks.
Former City Councilmember Mitchell Englander pleaded in March to one count of obstructing a public investigation after federal investigators claimed he received more than $30,000 in cash, female escort services, hotel rooms, wine bottles and meals from an unidentified real estate developer.
And real estate appraiser Justin Kim pleaded to a federal bribery charge in March, for funneling a $500,000 bribe between a developer and a city council member. Subsequent reporting by the L.A. Times and Spectrum News pinned Dae Yong Lee, Jeok Suk Kim, and Hyuk Lim as the developers, and Huizar as the council member.