Developer found guilty in LA City Hall bribery scheme

Jury decides Shen Zhen New World I paid ex-city councilman Jose Huizar for approval of 77-story project

Councilman Jose Huizar (Charlie Kaijo/CC BY 2.0/via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)
Former L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar (Charlie Kaijo/CC BY 2.0/via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)

Just two years after a federal grand jury indicted China-headquartered development firm Shen Zhen New World I for racketeering charges stemming from an investigation of former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar, a jury on Nov. 10 found the company of the eight charges brought against it.

Shen Zhen was found guilty of paying more than $1 million in bribes to Huizar, according to the Justice Department. The bribes included luxury trip expenses, casino gambling chips and a sham loan. The ill-gotten benefits were given to Huizar in exchange for his approval to build a 77-story skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles — a classic pay-to-play scandal.

Wei Huang, owner of Shen Zhen New World I, also is charged. However, Huang has not appeared before a U.S. court. He is a fugitive and believed to be living in China, according to a statement from the Justice Department.

Shen Zhen is expected to face multi-million-dollar fines. U.S. District Judge John Walter scheduled a sentencing hearing on Jan. 23.

The Chinese development company is the latest convict in the ongoing corruption investigation nicknamed Operation Casino Loyale.

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The investigation found that from Feb. 2013 to Nov. 2018, Huang, Shen Zhen’s chief, gave Huizar and his aide George Esparza bribes to gamble and to party, as well as political contributions and $600,000 collateral for Huizar to confidentially settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

The bribes were given to influence Huizar to approve the Shen Zhen-owned L.A. Grand Hotel redevelopment project, which would have transformed Shen Zhen’s project into the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River.

Huizar and a former deputy mayor Raymond Chan have pleaded not guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and bribery charges. They are scheduled to go to trial on Feb, 21. In a September 2021 statement, Huizar contended that payments made to him were legal and they were political contributions that were protected by the First Amendment.

The former councilman’s brother, Salvador Huizar, testified against Shen Zhen during its trial and is expected to testify against the former councilman. Salvador Huizar has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of making a false statement to federal prosecutors.

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