A real estate consultant is pleading guilty in racketeering scheme at city hall

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Los Angeles City Hall building. Photo credit: Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Los Angeles real estate consultant has agreed to plead guilty to a federal racketeering offense for participating in a “pay-to-play” scheme at LA City Hall. It allegedly involved developers who bribed public officials to get them to approve projects. George Chiang of Granada Hills agreed to fully cooperate in the government’s ongoing federal investigation, according to court documents. Officials say Chiang admitted he participated in a criminal enterprise led by a member of the Los Angeles City Council that engaged bribery and fraud to ensure the success of development projects.

Jack Weiss, a former LA City councilman for the 5th district, and a former federal prosecutor has been watching the case closely. He tells KCRW that the filing indicates that the U.S. attorney's office is making almost no effort to disguise that their ultimate target is Councilman Jose Huizar. 

“According to today's charging document, they are likely to be indicted on [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] charges. That's a terrible thing for them.You could be looking at more than a decade in federal prison if you're convicted of those crimes,” Weiss explains. “According to the charges today, ‘Council Member A’ ran his office as a completely corrupt racketeering entity. This is just a monumental charge in federal law enforcement. We rarely see federal prosecutors bring out the RICO hammer for local officials.”

Huizar’s attorney declined to comment on the case to the Los Angeles Times. But Weiss says that the investigation is likely nearing its end, and that the people who haven’t been identified will be indicted. 

“At some point, you have to assume the U.S. attorney's office is going to convene the grand jury,” he says. “I assume that things are going to happen really quickly. We have an election coming up in the fall, and federal prosecutors typically don't want to bring charges too close in time to elections just because of the possible impact. Today's charge signifies to me that it could be no more than a matter of weeks or months.”

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Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Cerise Castle