Developer Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison Over 2017 LA City Council Bribery Scandal
Los Angeles developer Dae Yong Lee was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a $750K fine for his 2017 attempt to bribe former City Council Member Jose Huizar, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
Lee offered Huizar and his assistant $500K to make an appeal of a Downtown project go away. The bribe was part of a larger scandal in which Huizar eventually admitted to extorting $1.5M from various developers.
The Lee-controlled company that was associated with the project, 940 Hill LLC, was also sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay $1.5M — the statutory maximum fine — plus the cost of prosecuting the case, the release said. The LLC will also have to implement measures "to prevent future criminal activity."
The federal indictment of Huizar revealed he had taken bribes from Lee to help advance one of Lee's projects. In 2016, a labor union filed an appeal against a Downtown high-rise condo project near the Ace Hotel that Lee was hoping to build. The appeal slowed movement on the project, so Lee sought the help of Huizar. Through his assistant, George Esparza, Huizar communicated that he would need to receive something in order to intervene. Lee agreed to give Huizar $500K, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
At the sentencing hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter said white-collar criminals “don’t think they will get caught, don’t think they will get charged, and don’t think they will face significant terms of imprisonment,” but he said Lee's sentence shows otherwise.
“The court must send a message to discourage others who are in similar situations from engaging in similar crimes,” Walter said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
At the hearing, Lee, who also goes by David Lee, apologized for his actions, the LA Times reported.
“Due to my greed and ambition, I did something I will regret for the rest of my life,” Lee told the court.
Lee isn't the only developer who was caught up in the Huizar pay-to-play scandal, but he is the first to get prison time.
In January 2021, San Francisco-based developer Carmel Partners agreed to pay $1.2M in connection with an investigation into Huizar's involvement with one of its Arts District developments, 520 Mateo. Carmel was never named in the case or charged with any wrongdoing related to it. The payment was part of a three-year nonprosecution agreement with the federal government.
In May of this year, development company Shen Zhen New World I LLC was sentenced to pay $4M and complete five years of probation for its participation in the Huizar scandal, including an estimated $1M worth of trips and a loan. The company owns the L.A. Grand Hotel at West Third and Figueroa streets.
Huizar earlier this year pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and one count of tax evasion. He is expected to be sentenced in December. Esparza pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in 2020 and also awaits sentencing.