Trial for former L.A. deputy mayor on federal corruption charges to begin

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Jury selection is expected to begin this morning in the trial of a former Los Angeles deputy mayor on federal public corruption charges prosecutors contend are tied to a City Hall-based bribery scheme run by convicted ex-Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar.

Raymond Chan faces a dozen criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and lying to federal agents.

Chan, 66, of Monterey Park, is accused of being a member of what prosecutors dubbed the Council District 14 "enterprise," a conspiracy which operated as a pay-to-play scheme in which Huizar -- assisted by others -- unlawfully used his office to give favorable treatment to real estate developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit benefits.

Huizar pleaded guilty last month in Los Angeles federal court to felony charges for using his powerful position at City Hall to enrich himself and his associates, and for cheating on his taxes. He faces multiple years behind bars at sentencing on April 3.

As a deputy mayor who oversaw economic development for ex-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2016 and 2017, Chan is charged with allegedly arranging indirect bribe payments to city officials by lining up employment contracts for the officials' relatives.

Chan's attorney, Harland Braun, denies that Chan had broken any laws and describes him as an honest former public employee who was "merely an innocent bystander who got swept up as a narrative device in a misguided RICO theory."

Chan worked for the city for almost three-dozen years, serving at one point as the top executive overseeing the Department of Building and Safety, which reviews building plans and inspects construction projects.

Court papers show the government plans to call more than a dozen witnesses in its case against Chan, including Huizar's wife, Richelle Rios. Rios is expected to be asked about Huizar's position as chair of the city's powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, her knowledge of those who did business with her husband, and her bid to follow Huizar as representative for the 14th council district.

The government also intends to call three witnesses (George Esparza, Huizar's former special assistant; lobbyist Morrie Goldman; and real estate development consultant George Chiang) who have entered into plea agreements in which they agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Before Huizar signed his plea deal, he and Chan were scheduled to go on trial together.

Two previous trials arising out of the indictment against Huizar, Chan and various associates have ended in convictions.

In the first Huizar-related trial, a federal jury found Bel Air real estate developer David Lee and 940 Hill LLC, a Lee-controlled company, guilty of felony charges, including fraud and bribery, for providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization's appeal of their downtown development project.

In the second trial, real estate development company Shen Zhen New World I LLC was found guilty of paying Huizar $1 million in bribes to obtain city approval to build a 77-story skyscraper.

During the Shen Zhen trial, Huizar's 83-year-old mother, his older brother and Rios testified for the prosecution.

Federal prosecutors have thus far convicted nine defendants and received over $3 million in criminal penalties to resolve the federal probe into two other major real estate development companies, as a result of operation "Casino Loyale," the investigation into City Hall corruption conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Huizar's older brother, Salvador Huizar, 57, of Boyle Heights, pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents about receiving envelopes of cash from his brother. He is set to be sentenced in May.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images