Los Angeles developer found guilty of bribing former councilman

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A real estate developer was convicted of bribery on Monday for giving $500,000 in cash to a former Los Angeles city councilman and his special assistant in exchange for favors.

A jury convicted Dae Yong Lee, 57, and a company he controlled of bribery, honest services wire fraud and falsifying records in connection with federal investigations, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors say that in 2017, Lee bribed former city councilman Jose Huizar and aide George Esparza to help them resolve a labor issue involving Lee’s company’s planned construction of a large complex. commercial and condominiums in the booming downtown district.

At the time, Huizar chaired the city’s powerful Land Use Planning and Management Committee.

During a subsequent federal corruption investigation, Lee altered accounting and tax records to incorrectly classify the bribe as a legitimate business expense, prosecutors said.

Lee could face up to 10 years in prison for bribery and 20 years each for wire fraud and obstruction when he is sentenced in September.

His company could be fined $1.5 million.

Lee is one of several developers and city officials who have been charged in the sweeping investigation into city hall corruption.

In 2020, a Huizar fundraiser, Justin Kim, pleaded guilty to a bribery offense for facilitating Lee’s bribes, while Esparza pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy. Both are cooperating with the investigation and are awaiting sentencing, the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors allege that Huizar orchestrated a $1.5 million pay-per-play scheme tied to approving the developments.

Huizar and former Los Angeles deputy mayor Raymond Chan are due to stand trial in February on federal charges including racketeering conspiracy and bribery. They pleaded not guilty.

In a separate case, former City Councilman Mitchell Englander pleaded guilty in 2020 to obstructing an FBI investigation into his acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in cash, escort services and other advantages of a businessman involved in major developments. He was sentenced last year to 14 months in federal prison.