The FBI investigation that has hampered 14th District City Councilman José Huizar appeared to spread this week, with indications that federal authorities are looking into a group of people in City Hall, as well as a collection of Downtown Los Angeles developers.
On Jan. 12, George Washington University counterterrorism expert Seamus Hughes posted information on Twitter about a warrant related to the investigation. The warrant, which according to U.S. District Court documents was issued on July 20, ordered Google to turn over documents and correspondence involving former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Ray Chan.
According to the warrant, FBI agents have requested information relating to projects “in and around Los Angeles that relate to foreign investors” including Shenzhen New World Group, Shenzhen Hazens, Greenland, and Oceanwide.
Each of the companies has either completed, or submitted plans to construct projects in and around Downtown. Shenzhen New World Group Investments owns the L.A. Grand Hotel, and announced plans last year to construct a 77-story hotel in the site.
Shenzhen Hazens owns the Luxe Hotel on Figueroa Street near L.A. Live and has been working on a plan to replace it with two high-rise towers.
Greenland USA, the American subsidiary of a Shanghai-based corporation, is building the 736-condominium Metropolis project adjacent to L.A. Live, and Oceanwide is erecting a $1 billion development in South Park.
Executives including Fuer Yuan, founder of Shenzhen Hazens, and Wei Huang, president of Shenzhen Hazen New World Group, were also included in the search warrant.
David Chaiken, an attorney for Shenzhen Hazens said he was unable to comment. Phone calls to Shenzhen New World Group were not returned.
The issue exploded Nov. 7, when FBI agents searched Huizar’s home, and his City Hall and Boyle Heights office. Agents were seen leaving his offices and home with boxes and electronic equipment. The bureau confirmed that the IRS was involved in the investigation and that seven search warrants were issued, but did not provide further details.
No one has been arrested in relation to the case and no charges have been filed.
The warrant sought information relating to a number of City Hall figures. In addition to Chan, who has left city government and currently works as a consultant, it mentioned Joel Jacinto, who in 2015 was appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to the city Board of Public Works. On Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Jacinto resigned from his post on the Board of Public Works. No reason was given.
Alex Comisar, Garcetti’s press secretary, said in an email that the mayor’s office has not received any request for information from federal authorities.
“I’ve got zero tolerance for any unethical behavior in City Hall,” Garcetti said in a prepared statement. “Angelenos deserve public servants who bring integrity to everything they do in and outside of City Hall — and that will always be my demand of anyone who serves.”
Two Huizar staff members were also mentioned in the warrant. It cited Shawn Kuk, Huizar’s planning director, and George Esparza, a former aide.
Esparza left Huizar’s office last January, and currently works as Chief of Staff to state Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo. He could not be reached for comment, but told the Los Angeles Times that he grew uncomfortable while working for Huizar’s office.
In an email, Kuk declined to comment.
According to the warrant, investigators have requested financial records relating not only to Huizar, but also his mother Isidra Huizar, and his brother Salvador Huizar.
Additionally, investigators were seeking information pertaining to potential instances of conspiracy, bribery and kickbacks concerning federal funds, as well as extortion and money laundering.
Ninth District City Councilman Curren Price was also named in the warrant. According to Angelina Valencia, Price’s communications director, the councilman was unaware of “any of the matters of the warrant,” and will cooperate with the investigation.
Another person mentioned in the warrant was Deron Williams, the chief of staff to Council President Herb Wesson. Wesson was guarded in comments last week about the investigation.
“I personally did not know anything about these things until they were reported in the media,” Wesson said at a luncheon at the Palm hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum on Monday, Jan. 14. He added that, “I have not been contacted personally and have no knowledge, I cannot make responses or comments on things that I know knowing about.”
Wesson acknowledged that there has been “drama” in City Hall. He mentioned the effort to preserve integrity within the seat of government, stating a goal is that, “when we finish this process that the integrity still stands.”
Jon Regardie and Nicholas Slayton contributed to this report.
©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019