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Billionaire Chinese Developer Found Guilty Of Bribing Council Member

A jury has found Shen Zen New World I LLC, which purchased the L.A. Grand Downtown Hotel in the hopes of building a 77-story skyscraper on the site, guilty on eight charges in a federal investigation.

A jury has found Chinese developer Wei Huang guilty of bribing former Los Angeles City Council Member José Huizar with more than $1M in exchange for approval of a planned skyscraper.

Huang, who owns Shen Zhen New World I LLC, provided Huizar with political contributions to luxury trip expenses and casino gambling chips in an attempt to win approval for a 77-story mixed-use tower. The Department of Justice announced the conviction in a press release Thursday.

The proposed development would have been the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River. In less than three hours of deliberation, the jury found Shen Zen guilty on eight counts: three honest service wire fraud charges, four interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery charge, and one bribery charge.

Evidence presented at the trial showed that Shen Zen purchased the 1980s-era, 13-story L.A. Grand Hotel in 2010. At the time, Huizar was both the chairman of the L.A. Planning and Land Use Management Committee and the representative for the city’s 14th District, where the property is located.

Between 2013 and 2018, Shen Zen provided Huizar and his aide George Esparza with cash, political contributions, prostitution services, casino chips, stays at luxury Las Vegas resorts, meals, flights on private jets, spa services and a $600K collateral sum for Huizar to settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit filed by one of the council member’s former staffers.

Shen Zen filed an application with the Los Angeles City Planning Department in 2018, hoping its actions would expedite the approval process, according to the DOJ. The proposal for the mixed-use development featured almost 600 hotel rooms, 242 residential condominiums, almost 29K SF of commercial space and a further 37K of hotel amenity space, according to Urbanize L.A.

The company is expected to face a multimillion-dollar fine from a judge in its settlement hearing, scheduled for January 2023. Nine defendants have been convicted in the sprawling FBI "Casino Loyale" investigation into L.A. City Hall corruption, which has so far netted $3M in penalties.

Huang is also facing charges, but didn't appear in court. The DOJ said Huang is a fugitive and may be in China.

This is the second Huizar-related trial in the investigation. In June this year, a federal jury found developer Dae Yong Lee and his company 940 Hill LLC guilty of felony charges for providing $500M to Huizar and his special assistant to help resolve a labor organization’s appeal of another downtown L.A. project.

Huizar is scheduled to stand trial in February next year alongside former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, on racketeering conspiracy and multiple bribery charges. Both Chan and Huizar have pleaded not guilty.