Chinese Company That Bribed Los Angeles Councilman with Casino Visits Fined $4M
Chinese real estate conglomerate Shenzhen New World 1 was slapped with a $4 million fine in a Los Angeles courtroom last week on charges of bribery.
Its billionaire owner, Wei Huang, who is currently on the run from US authorities, splashed out more than $1 million between 2013 and 2018 to woo former L.A City Council member Jose Huizar. It was part of the company’s bid to construct a 77-story skyscraper in the downtown area.
The bribery spree included all-expenses-paid private jet flights to Las Vegas and its famous casinos. While in town, Huizar stayed in presidential suites, gambled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in casino chips, ate at high-end restaurants, and engaged with prostitutes, according to the Los Angeles Times. All of which was bankrolled by Wei Huang and Shenzhen New World 1.
“This five-year bribery scheme was brazen, devised, and carried out with impunity,” said prosecutors before the hearing.
Huang has already been personally charged with fraud and bribery. But he has not returned to the US from China since the FBI investigation began.
Politically Exposed Persons
Federal investigators were first alerted to the crimes in 2015. A long, drawn-out legal battle ensued, including a tangle over warrants and emails. The case has still not been completely concluded, although Huizar is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in January to racketeering and tax evasion.
Huang was not the only billionaire property developer courting Huizar. But he was the biggest spender.
Huang was well-known to employees at Las Vegas casinos as a “whale,” or high-value customer. According to the Los Angeles Times, he had already gambled more than $13 million at the Palazzo at the time the investigation started.
Casino staff noticed Huang arriving with another player, Huizar, on frequent trips starting in 2015. When Huizar then made a $30,000 withdrawal despite not depositing anything during that stay, the staff’s suspicions were aroused.
So management looked him up online and found out he was a Los Angeles politician.
Security would then monitor incoming flight records, as the casino often puts on private jet flights for big customers, and found out when Huang would be arriving next.
They would then corner the billionaire’s group hours after their arrival on the casino floor.
Executives confirmed Huizar’s councillor status, then asked him to fill out a Politically Exposed Persons form – something designed to keep casinos out of cases such as this.
Huizar acted defensively and refused to fill in the form, so staff escorted him off the casino property.
Huang was then filmed on CCTV returning to an exclusive gaming parlor in the casino. There he played through $17,800 in chips that Huizar had left on the table.
That confirmed the link between them as suspicious activity in the minds of Palazzo staff, who sent the evidence up the chain to Las Vegas Sands Corporation head office. Its chief compliance officer then turned the case over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Culture of Corruption
The FBI’s investigations then revealed the full extent of Huizar’s crimes over the several years it took to complete.
As well as multiple bribery charges for Huizar, other former councillors have also been charged. Mitchell Englander is serving a 14-month sentence in another case involving an expensive night out in Las Vegas.
Judges in all the related trials have talked about the “culture of corruption,” saying that hefty sentences would “protect the public from further crimes.”
Huizar is currently awaiting sentencing on charges of racketeering and tax evasion. Huang is considered a wanted fugitive by US authorities for his part in the case. But his whereabouts are officially unknown.