Ex L.A. Deputy Mayor Back on Trial in ‘Casino Loyale’ Bribery Case

Posted on: March 15, 2024, 04:52h. 

Last updated on: March 15, 2024, 04:52h.

The trial of former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan on charges of racketeering, bribery, and fraud was underway this week in a federal court.

Raymond Chan, LA deputy mayor, Jose Huizar, Casino Loyale
Raymond Chan arrives at a Los Angeles federal courtroom with his legal team Tuesday. He denies being a cog in former City Councilman Jose Huizar’s pay-to-play scheme at City Hall. His lawyer painted him as someone who wanted to tear down bureaucratic red tape to build bold construction projects. (Image: Los Angeles Times)

It’s the second time federal prosecutors have attempted to try Chan for his alleged role in a sprawling corruption scheme masterminded by former City Councilman Jose Huizar.

Chan denies being a crucial intermediary between Chinese property developers and Huizar. The disgraced councilman was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year for taking $1.5 million in kickbacks, largely in the form of casino chips. In return for these bribes, he greenlit major downtown real estate projects through the city’s approval process.

Chan’s original trial fell apart in April last year when his lawyer, Harland Braun, fell ill and was unable to return to work. The former deputy mayor is the last of numerous defendants to face reckoning in the case, which federal prosecutors have dubbed “Casino Loyale.”

The Facilitator?

In opening arguments, Tuesday, prosecutors painted Chan as a facilitator, who “got bribes for himself and … others.”

They accuse the defendant of secretly establishing a consulting firm while working for L.A. City Council, which received payment from a developer after he stopped working for the city.

They also claim he helped Huizar obtain bribes from Chinese property developer Shenzhen New World Group and its billionaire owner, Wei Huang.

Huizar Downfall

Shenzhen acquired the LA Grand Hotel in 2010. The company wanted to turn it into a 77-floor mixed-use skyscraper that would have been the tallest building on the West Coast.

Wei lavished Huizar and his aide, George Esparza, with “cash, casino gambling chips, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury Las Vegas hotels and casinos, expensive meals, spa services, prostitution services, [and] political contributions,” according to court filings.

Huizar was recognized by eagle-eyed VIP casino staff at the Palazzo Las Vegas, who noticed he was cashing out tens of thousands of dollars in casino chips that had been provided by Wei.

Under anti-money laundering regulations, casino staff are trained to pay particular attention to politicians, or “politically exposed persons.” That’s because they carry a greater risk of involvement in bribery or corruption, and therefore money laundering.

When Huizar refused to sign a document declaring he had an “independent source of wealth sufficient to demonstrate that he was gambling with his own money,” the casino called the FBI.

‘No Quid Pro Quo’

On Tuesday, Chan’s new attorney, John Hanusz, emphasized that his client was conspicuously absent from these casino junkets to Las Vegas. He argued Chan was not motivated by greed but by a genuine desire to improve downtown L.A. He prided himself on tearing down bureaucratic red tape to make way for bold construction projects, Hanuaz claimed.

“There was no quid pro quo in this case with Ray Chan,” he added. “With Jose Huizar, there absolutely was.”


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