Friday, October 23, 2020

Political fundraiser to plead guilty to bribing LA City Councilmember

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A political fundraiser is pleading guilty to federal charges he facilitated a $500,000 bribe from a real estate developer to a member of the Los Angeles City Council, authorities announced Thursday.

53-year-old Justin Jangwoo Kim of Hancock Park is pleading guilty to one count of federal program bribery as part of a deal with prosecutors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reports.

The councilmember in question was not named, but was only identified in the charging documents as “Councilmember A.”

However, this comes after former L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander was arrested earlier this month on federal corruption charges in connection with an ongoing FBI probe into alleged “pay-to-play” schemes involving officials at City Hall.

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Englander was a member of the city council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM), which overseas and approves major real estate projects. Councilmember A was also part of the committee, prosecutors said.

According to prosecutors, Kim worked as a real estate appraiser and consultant who helped facilitate the bribe in order to secure the help of Councilmember A in resolving an appeal by a labor organization against a major real estate development project in the councilmember’s district.

In the summer of 2016, a labor group filed an appeal against a real estate project claiming it violated the California Environmental Quality Act. That appeal was preventing the project from getting approved by PLUM and the city council, prosecutors said.

The developer behind the project asked Kim to reach out to Councilmember A and the staff member to resolve the appeal.

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On Sept. 1, 2016, all four met at a karaoke bar, where the councilmember agreed to help push the project through in exchange for a $500,000 bribe, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Then in February or March of 2017, the developer gave Kim $400,000 in cash in a paper bag to pass on to the councilmember, prosecutors say. Kim allegedly confessed to FBI investigators that he gave Councilmember A’s staff member a portion of the money, but kept some for himself.

The labor union’s appeal was subsequently resolved. In July 2017, the developer gave Kim the remaining $100,000 to then give to Councilmember A, prosecutors said.

For more than a year, the FBI has been investigating possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes as part of a corruption investigation at L.A. City Hall focusing on huge real estate investments from Chinese companies.

In November of 2018, the FBI raided the home and offices of current L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar as part of its investigation. Huizar has not yet been arrested and remains in office despite calls to resign.

In December, partly in response to the Huizar case, the L.A. City Council unanimously passed an ordinance which bans real estate developers from contributing to political candidates running for city office.

In July 2019, meanwhile, FBI agents also raided the downtown offices of the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

Kim faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to appear in federal court on March 31. Most court business is currently postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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