A federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Chinese property developer Shenzhen New World Group and its billionaire owner Wei Huang, 57, Thursday of bribing LA Councilman Jose Huizar with more than $1 million.
Jurors took just three hours to find the developer guilty of three counts of honest service wire fraud, four counts of interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and one count of bribery.
Wei is currently believed to be in China. He did not appear at trial and is considered to be a fugitive by the US government.
From February 2013 to November 2018, Wei showered Huizar and his aide, George Esparza, with “cash, casino gambling chips, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury Las Vegas hotels and casinos, expensive meals, spa services, prostitution services, [and] political contributions,” prosecutors told the jury.
Wei also provided $600,000 in collateral for a loan to help Huizar settle a sexual harassment claim, prosecutors said.
Kickbacks for Skyscrapers
At the time, Huizar was chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which oversaw major commercial and residential development projects in the city. He also represented Council District 14, which includes downtown Los Angeles.
Wei wanted the councilman to grease the skids on his application to develop the L.A. Grand Hotel in the 14th District. Shenzen had acquired the property in 2010 and planned to transform it into a 77-floor mixed-use skyscraper that would have been the tallest building on the West Coast.
Huizar and Wei made eight trips to Las Vegas casinos together from 2014 to 2016. On one visit to the Palazzo, staff recognized Huizar and noticed him cashing out tens of thousands of dollars in casino chips that had been provided by Wei. Flagging this as suspicious, they eventually called the FBI.
Pay to Play
The case is part of a sprawling pay-to-play conspiracy at Los Angeles City Hall, allegedly centered around Huizar, which led to the indictment of nine defendants.
Huizar and former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan have pleaded not guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy and multiple bribery counts. They are scheduled to go to trial on February 21.
Esparza pleaded guilty in July 2020 to one count of racketeering conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5.
Shenzhen New World is expected to be ordered to pay a multi-million dollar fine at a sentencing hearing on January 23, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
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