‘Casino Loyale’: Company Owned by Chinese Billionaire Guilty of Paying $1 Million in Bribes to LA Councilman

‘Casino Loyale’: Company Owned by Chinese Billionaire Guilty of Paying $1 Million in Bribes to LA Councilman
Downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 20, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Andrew Thornebrooke

A Los Angeles real estate firm owned by a Chinese billionaire is guilty of paying more than $1 million in bribes to a Los Angeles city councilman as part of a scheme that involved luxury cruises, high-rolling trips to casinos, and prostitution.

Shen Zhen New World I, a real estate firm owned by Chinese billionaire Wei Huang, was found guilty by a jury after less than three hours of deliberation on Nov. 10. The charges included “three counts of honest service wire fraud, four counts of interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and one count of bribery,” according to a statement by the Justice Department.
According to Forbes, Wei also owns one of China’s largest real estate firms, Xinhu Zhongbao, where his son is a company manager.

The verdict was the climax of an ongoing saga of alleged crimes revolving around Wei’s firm and its efforts to bribe then-Los Angeles Councilman José Huizar into approving the redevelopment of a 77-story skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles, according to the Justice Department.

Shen Zhen purchased the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles in 2010 on Wei’s behalf. Huizar, at the time, represented the district that the building was in and was also chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which oversees major commercial and residential development projects in the city.

The campaign of bribes continued from 2013 through 2018 and benefited both Huizar and his aide, George Esparza. The bribes included direct cash payments, stays at luxury hotels and casinos, private flights, expensive meals, spa treatment packages, prostitutes, and political contributions.

The company and Wei also provided a $600,000 payment to Huizar for him to confidentially settle a sexual harassment lawsuit made by a former staffer, which threatened his career.

Federal prosecutors have now convicted nine defendants in the case and received more than $3 million in criminal penalties to resolve their investigation into two other major real estate development companies resulting from Operation “Casino Loyale.” Casino Loyale is an ongoing corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall being jointly conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Huizar was arrested on federal corruption charges in 2020, and Shen Zhen is expected to face a multimillion-dollar fine during a sentencing hearing in January.

Wei is currently a fugitive and is believed to be in China.

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
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