Jury Mulls Case of Chinese Billionaire Accused of LA Councilman Casino-Chip Bribery

A federal jury in Los Angeles began deliberations Wednesday on a $1 million bribery case involving a wealthy Chinese property developer and LA City councilman Jose Huizar.

Wei Huang
Wei Huang
Security video from the Cosmopolitan shows Huizar and Wei on one of eight gambling trips they took to Las Vegas together. (Image: US District Court)

Wei Huang, the president of the Shenzhen New World Group, is accused of showering Huizar with kickbacks in the form of gambling trips to Las Vegas and other perks. Those included expensive meals, private jet trips, and prostitutes. Wei also provided $600,000 in collateral for a loan to help Huizar settle a sexual harassment claim, prosecutors say.

In return, Wei wanted the city official to look favorably on his plan to redevelop the LA Grand Hotel Downtown, they claim. The developer wanted to build a new 77-story hotel tower, which would have been the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi.

At the time, Huizar was chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and represented Council District 14, which includes downtown Los Angeles.

Fugitive Billionaire

Wei is being tried in absentia. The billionaire left the US for China in late 2018 when the FBI turned up the heat on Huizar. Wei is considered a fugitive, according to prosecutors.

Huizar is scheduled to stand trial early next year on racketeering charges. Last June, another man, Los Angeles real estate developer Dae Yong Lee, was convicted of bribing the councilman with $500,000 to obtain approval on a separate architectural project.

Huizar and Wei made eight trips to Las Vegas casinos together from 2014 to 2016, according to court documents. On each occasion, Wei would give Huizar a minimum of $10,000 in chips to play with.

On one visit to the VIP room at the Palazzo, staff recognized Huizar as a Los Angeles politician. They also noticed he was cashing out tens of thousands of dollars in chips that had been purchased by Wei, which they flagged as suspicious.  

Anti-money laundering regulations demand casinos to pay extra scrutiny to politicians, because they are “politically exposed persons” (PEPs). PEPs present greater risk of potential involvement in bribery or corruption, and therefore money laundering.

Palazzo staff asked Huizar to sign a document to confirm he was gambling with his own money. When he refused, they called the FBI.

Redistribution of Wealth

Attorney for Shenzen New World Craig Wilke did not deny that Huizar was the beneficiary of Wei’s largesse, but argued that was all it was, simple generosity. As a billionaire high roller, Wei was comped to the hilt by casinos and was simply sharing the benefits, Wilke claimed.

Wilke said in closing arguments that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence that Huizar had done anything to further the LA Grand redevelopment project.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Jamari Buxton told the jurors Wei’s absence spoke volumes.

“Ask yourself when you go back into the jury room where is Wei Huang,” he advised. “Wei Huang is in China, and he’s in China because he didn’t want to face you.”

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