‘Indirect bribes’ went to family members of officials in LA City Hall corruption case, feds say
04 May 2021

When the U.S. attorney’s corruption case targeting Los Angeles City Hall first broke into view, much of the public’s attention focused on vivid descriptions of cash bribes, escort services and lavish trips to Las Vegas.

But as the investigation has unspooled over the past year, federal prosecutors have laid out another, less sensational set of allegations: that a deputy mayor-turned-real estate consultant worked to arrange “indirect bribes” for city officials by routing the money through those officials’ family members.

Prosecutors brought an indictment alleging that former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, while working for downtown developers, set up a job for the family member of a city commissioner; had his company hire a relative of a City Council aide; and proposed a fake consulting contract with another city staffer’s mother.

Such job offers, even modest ones, were a way of greasing the wheels of the city bureaucracy, prosecutors allege.

Experts say indirect bribes can be more difficult to uncover than a typical quid pro quo in which someone gives money directly to a government official. Prosecutors also may face greater difficulties in court in proving that such circuitous financial arrangements violate the law, said former federal prosecutor Brian T. Kelly.

“A jury can easily understand that the politician is corrupt if he’s putting cash in his pocket,” said Kelly, who is now a defense lawyer with Nixon Peabody LLP and is not connected to the case. “Sometimes it’s more difficult for the jury to understand that the politician is getting a benefit if the money is going to some company that a family member is connected to.”

A lawyer for Chan says his client is innocent and that he intends to prove it at trial.

In the City Hall corruption case, the indirect bribes were allegedly offered to figures who were lesser known than Chan or Councilman Jose Huizar, both of whom have pleaded not guilty to bribery, racketeering and other charges. One was a political appointee of Mayor Eric Garcetti. Another was an aide to Huizar. A third worked for a council member whose identity remains secret.

Chan, who was working for downtown developers, believed those three officials could help clear the way for his clients’ projects at City Hall, according to the federal indictment.

The indirect bribe schemes described in the federal indictment are far from straightforward. In one example, prosecutors accuse Chan of directing a businessman who sold high-end cabinets to hire a relative of Joel Jacinto, one of Garcetti’s appointees on the Board of Public Works, according to the indictment and city records.

That businessman had been looking to get his products into downtown high-rises, prosecutors said. Federal investigators have not publicly named the businessman, saying he had been cooperating with the FBI. However, The Times identified him last year as Andy Wang, based on statements made by prosecutors in court.

Chan had been working as a real estate consultant on a plan to demolish the Luxe City Center in downtown Los Angeles and replace it with new hotel and residential towers. He viewed Jacinto as someone with influence over that project at City Hall, according to details in the indictment.

Jacinto worked closely with the city’s Bureau of Engineering, which issues certain construction permits to real estate developers. While his relative worked for Wang, Jacinto received requests from Chan and his business partners to step in and help the Luxe with the city’s permitting process, according to the indictment.

Jacinto, who quit the public works board in 2019, also is not named in the indictment. However, emails sent to and from Jacinto show that he is the city commissioner mentioned by prosecutors. Those emails, obtained by The Times through a public records request, feature the same dates and wording as emails mentioned in the indictment.

Neither Jacinto nor his lawyer responded to inquiries from The Times. Wang could not be reached for comment. Neither has been arrested or publicly charged.

By David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times, 2 May 2021

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