Real Estate Consultant Charged in Bribery Corruption Scheme at LA City Hall

Charges hit a week after a former council member was indicted for allegedly trying to cover up illicit payments from real estate developer

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Corruption scandals with real estate developers at Los Angeles City Hall continue to widen after a political fundraiser will plead guilty to federal bribery charges. 

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Real estate appraiser and consultant Justin Jangwoo Kim admitted to helping a real estate developer pay a member of the city council to help advance a development project in an unnamed council member’s district. The L.A. Times broke the story after the plea agreement was filed Thursday in an alleged scheme in which $500,000 was exchanged for producing favorable results in the development’s approval.

Kim is the second person tied to city hall in as many weeks to be charged after former Councilman Mitchell Englander was indicted last week, according to the Times. Englander now faces 50 years in federal prison for allegedly trying to cover up that he accepted $15,000 in cash, $34,000 worth of alcohol, and a female escort on a trip to Las Vegas from an unidentified businessman. A real estate developer, a CEO of a construction company, and a lobbyist were also included in that indictment.

Kim, who works as a real estate appraiser and consultant for the unidentified council member, faces up to 10 years in prison, and said he will cooperate with the investigation. 

The alleged scheme started after an appeal was filed against a residential project in the councilmember’s district in 2016, the Times reported. A developer of a project allegedly requested that Kim ask for the councilmember’s help, to which he replied that it would not be “for free,” and that it would require financial benefits. That grew into negotiations and alleged payments totaling $500,000 in 2017 for the councilmember’s help in advancing the project, and to Kim for facilitating the deal.

Kim was also allegedly helping to try to get the unnamed “Councilmember A’s” relative to be their successor after the term expired. 

Councilman Jose Huizar faces term limits at the end of this year, and was trying to get his wife to take his place as council member until the FBI agents raided their house and his office in 2018. Huizar was the former chairman of the city’s Planning Land Use Management Committee which oversees planning approval discretion for the city council. The Times reported that a search warrant showed that agents have been looking into city officials and business people for possible bribes, extortion, and money laundering. But Huizar has not been charged.