Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan found guilty in sprawling City Hall corruption case

A jury delivered a swift and decisive judgment in a federal corruption case targeting former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, finding Wednesday that Chan secured bribes for himself and for former Councilmember Jose Huizar as part of a sprawling pay-to-play scheme.

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Within a few hours, the jury found Chan guilty on 12 of 12 counts — racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and giving false statements to investigators — in a case focused on financial benefits provided by real estate developers with projects in Huizar’s district.

U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said Chan, 67, used his leadership role at City Hall to “favor corrupt individuals and companies willing to play dirty” to win approval of downtown high-rises. Residents of Los Angeles, Estrada said, deserved “much better.”

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“With today’s verdict, we send a strong message that the public will not stand for corruption and that pay-to-play politics has no place in our community,” he said in a statement.

Chan worked for the city for more than three decades, much of it at the Department of Building and Safety, where he ascended to the top job. In 2016, he was hired by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as deputy mayor over economic development, supervising the Planning Department, Building and Safety, and other city agencies. He held that job for slightly more than a year.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 10.

Chan’s attorney, John Hanusz, said his client will be filing an appeal. Throughout the trial, he argued that Chan was not part of the criminal enterprise led by Huizar, who was recently sentenced to 13 years in prison on racketeering and tax evasion charges.

Huizar admitted last year that he received a wide array of bribes and other benefits from downtown developers, including gambling chips at casinos, flights on private jets, campaign contributions, luxury hotel stays, concert tickets and services from prostitutes.

“This case was, and always has been, about Jose Huizar,” Hanusz said.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors portrayed Chan as a crucial intermediary between Huizar, who wielded huge power over downtown development projects, and Chinese real estate developers.

In one particular scheme, prosecutors said, Chan helped Huizar secretly settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former aide. Billionaire Wei Huang, owner of the Chinese development company Shen Zhen New World I, provided Huizar with $600,000 in collateral that allowed Huizar to secure a bank loan and pay off the aide, they said.

Shen Zhen, owner of the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, later proposed a 77-story skyscraper that drew support from Huizar. The settlement money arrived at a crucial moment for the Eastside council member, who was running for reelection and facing a potentially formidable challenge from veteran former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

That settlement payment, FBI Special Agent Andrew Civetti testified earlier this week, “was at the heart of this investigation.”

At that time, Huizar feared the sexual harassment case would end his career, prosecution witnesses said. The source of the settlement money, kept secret during Huizar’s 2015 victorious reelection campaign, did not become public until five years later, after the first set of charges were filed in the Huizar investigation.

Wednesday’s guilty verdict also encompassed Chan’s dealings with another Chinese developer who sought to redevelop the Luxe Hotel, across from the L.A. Live entertainment complex. Prosecutors said Chan, while working for the city, helped set up a company that took the developer, Shenzhen Hazens, on as a client.

While working as deputy mayor, prosecutors said, Chan worked to line up support for the Luxe project. Former Planning Commission President David Ambroz testified last week that Chan pressured him to support the Luxe project during a one-on-one meeting away from City Hall — and sounded more like a “hired gun” for the project than a deputy mayor.

After leaving city employment, Chan received payment from the developer for his work moving the project through the city approval process, prosecutors said.

“He set himself up for a big payday … once he left the city,” said Asst. U.S. Atty. Cassie Palmer during closing arguments Tuesday.

The jury also found Chan guilty of helping secure a bribe from Shenzhen Hazens — a commitment of a $100,000 campaign contribution to support a bid for City Council by Huizar’s wife, Richelle Huizar. She later dropped out of the race.

Prosecutors said the push to elect Huizar’s wife was designed to help participants in the criminal enterprise, including Chan and Huizar, retain their power over downtown development.

Lawyers for Chan repeatedly sought to undermine the government’s case, saying that key prosecution witnesses had lied to FBI agents during the investigation and should not be deemed credible. Those witnesses later pleaded guilty and are hoping for leniency at their sentencings, the defense team said.

Yet another prosecution witness, businessman Andy Wang, has never been arrested or charged, even though he provided cash in envelopes to former Councilmember Mitchell Englander inside casino bathrooms, the defense team said.

Englander was sentenced in 2021 to 14 months in prison for lying to federal authorities about his dealings with Wang, who provided him $15,000 in secret payments, as well as an expensive night in Las Vegas.

Chan, while working closely with developers, was motivated not by greed but by a desire to make L.A. more business-friendly, Hanusz said. While Huizar and his associates accepted flights to Las Vegas, gambling chips, lavish hotel accommodations and escort services, Chan received none of those things, he said.

“There was no quid pro quo in this case with Ray Chan,” Hanusz told the jury. “With Jose Huizar, there absolutely was.”

Chan is the last defendant charged in the City Hall pay-to-play investigation — dubbed “Casino Loyale” by the federal government due to Huizar’s frequent Las Vegas trips — to go on trial.

George Esparza, Huizar’s onetime aide, pleaded guilty in 2020 to racketeering conspiracy but has not yet been sentenced. He testified against Chan, as did real estate consultant George Chiang, who worked with Chan and also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

Shen Zhen New World I, the company that proposed the 77-story tower, was convicted in 2022 of providing Huizar a vast array of bribes. A judge later fined the company $4 million. Its owner, Wei Huang, fled the country and is now a fugitive, according to the Department of Justice.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Comments

  1. Treva Bennett says

    Jeesz what a corrupt individual. He should be housed in separate quarters. He’s going to corrupt the jail house population.

  2. Donald J. says

    Does the lack of comments on this article depict that the California citizens have come to expect this is normal for their politicians?

  3. Boris Badenov says

    There needs to be a serious CORRUPTION investigation into Newsom, you know darn well that the Choo-Choo to nowhere is bankrolling him.

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