Posted on: December 21, 2021, 03:16h.
Last updated on: December 21, 2021, 03:17h.
A former Los Angeles city councilman at the center of a City Hall pay-to-play scandal was once escorted from the Palazzo at the Venetian by staff concerned he could be engaging in corruption.
Ex-LA Councilman Jose Huizar (main) and billionaire property developer Wei Huang (inset) went on gambling trips together, with Wei stumping up all of the money. (Image: Los Angeles Daily News/Atlas/Casino.org)
That’s according to documents newly filed in the case by federal prosecutors who accuse Jose Huizar and associates of accepting at least $1.5 million in kickbacks from property developers.
Prosecutors had already claimed in court filings that Huizar made at least eight gambling trips to Las Vegas with billionaire Chinese property developer Wei Huang.
Wei, who has been separately indicted by the FBI for bribery, is the president of the Shenzhen New World Group. The company owns the LA Grand Hotel Downtown, which it wanted to develop into a new 77-story hotel tower.
It was to be the tallest skyscraper west of Mississippi, but it needed sign-off from Huizar. At the time he was the chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, and he represented Council District 14, which includes downtown Los Angeles.
‘Politically Exposed Person’
The new filings allege that on Huizar’s fifth trip to the Palazzo with Wei, staff in an exclusive VIP room noticed the councilman playing with, and ultimately cashing out, tens of thousands of dollars in chips that had been purchased by Wei.
This was regarded as “suspicious activity” by staff, who recognized Huizar from TV and newspapers as a Los Angeles City councilman. This made him a “politically exposed person” (PEP).
Under anti-money laundering rules, casinos are required to provide additional scrutiny toward PEP’s because they present greater risk of potential involvement in bribery or corruption. This, in turn, increases the risk that funds brought to the casino may have been laundered.
According to filings, staff approached Huizar and asked him to sign a document that confirmed he had an “independent source of wealth sufficient to demonstrate that he was gambling with his own money.”
When Huizar refused, he was escorted from the premises. The casino then called the FBI.
After that, Huizar and Wei stopped visiting the Palazzo, although they did take three additional trips together to different Las Vegas casinos, according to court documents.
Fight to Submit Email Evidence
The latest documents were filed as federal prosecutors sought to counter a motion by defense lawyers to dismiss as evidence dozens of Huizar’s personal emails, seized by the government.
While investigators obtained a warrant to search Huizar’s emails, his lawyers argue the seizure violated his Fourth Amendment rights because at the time they did not have probable cause.
Prosecutors argue the evidence from the Palazzo show that they did.
Huizar was arrested in June 2020. He faces charges of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and faces up to 20 years in prison.