Los Angeles, California - A real estate development consultant has agreed to plead guilty to a federal racketeering offense for participating in a wide-ranging “pay-to-play” scheme in which developers bribed public officials – including a member of the Los Angeles City Council – to secure official acts that would benefit their projects.
George Chiang, 41, of Granada Hills, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute.
Chiang was charged with participating in the RICO conspiracy in a criminal information filed today in United States District Court. In conjunction with the charging document, federal prosecutors also filed a plea agreement in which Chiang agreed to fully cooperate in the government’s ongoing investigation into political corruption in the City of Los Angeles.
In the court documents, Chiang admitted that he participated in a criminal enterprise called the Council District A Enterprise (CD-A Enterprise). The enterprise was led by a member of the Los Angeles City Council and involved individuals engaged in a course of conduct – including bribery and honest services fraud – designed to enrich themselves, to conceal their activities from authorities and the public, and to maintain and advance their political power.
The public officials involved in the CD-A Enterprise received cash; consulting and retainer fees; political contributions; tickets to concerts, shows, and sporting events; and other gifts in exchange for affecting the success of development projects.
In early 2014, Chiang was a real estate broker who was recruited by “Individual 1” – a longtime employee of the City of Los Angeles, who eventually became the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development – to be a consultant who would interface with Chinese companies that were developing real estate projects in Los Angeles, according to court documents.
As he started providing consulting services, Chiang became a close political ally of “Councilmember A,” who was a member of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and member of the Economic Development Committee, according to court documents. Chiang also became a close ally of Councilmember A’s special assistant. Through these relationships, Chiang developed a business relationship with Justin Jangwoo Kim, a fundraiser for Councilmember A. Kim previously agreed to plead guilty to a bribery offense involving Councilmember A and the special assistant.
“Members and associates of the CD-A Enterprise conspired with one another to facilitate bribery schemes that would provide Councilmember A and other City officials financial benefits and keep members in power to maintain the CD-A Enterprise’s political stronghold in the City,” according to Chiang’s plea agreement. “In exchange, Councilmember A, Individual 1, and members and associates of the CD-A Enterprise, would take official action to ensure certain development projects and CD-A Enterprise associates received favored treatment from the City and thereby secure their bribe-financed influence. In addition, members and associates of the CD-A Enterprise sought political contributions from developers and their proxies (e.g., lobbyists, consultants, etc.) to benefit Councilmember A and his allies in exchange for official acts to benefit those developers and their proxies, including defendant Chiang.”
Chiang’s plea agreement contains a 22-page “factual basis” that details certain activities of the CD-A criminal enterprise. According to the factual basis, Councilmember A accepted bribes from “Company D,” a China-based real estate development company, which employed Chiang as a consultant. Among other things, Company D funneled $66,000 to an associate of Councilmember A and pledged $100,000 to a political action committee to benefit a relative of Councilmember A running for the CD-A seat on the City Council. In exchange, Councilmember A filed motions and voted to approve Company D’s “Project D” at City hearings.
In addition, Chiang agreed to pay Individual 1 a share of the lucrative consulting proceeds he received from Company D in exchange for Individual 1 shepherding Project D through the approval process in Individual 1’s capacity as Deputy Mayor, according to the plea agreement’s factual basis. Individual 1 directly and indirectly accepted more than $100,000 from Chiang for assisting in obtaining approvals for Project D, including by exerting pressure on other City officials who could influence the project’s success, according to court documents.
The court has not scheduled a date for Chiang to enter his guilty plea. Once he does formally enter the guilty plea, he will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The case against Chiang is part of an ongoing public corruption investigation being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Chiang is the third person to agree to plead guilty to a federal felony related to this ongoing investigation. In addition to Kim, former Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitchell Englander has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of scheming to falsify material facts related to his cover up of cash payments and other gifts offered from a Los Angeles businessperson. Kim is scheduled to enter his guilty plea on June 3, and Englander is set to plead guilty on June 4.
The case against Chiang is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mack E. Jenkins, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Assistant United States Attorney Veronica Dragalin of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.