Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s David Zahniser, here to tell you about the drama of the past week, with help from my colleagues Dakota Smith and Rachel Uranga.

The 12 jurors who decided the fate of former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan got an inside look at what went on at City Hall during the real estate boom that preceded COVID-19.

The picture painted for them by prosecutors was deeply disturbing — and enough to result in Chan’s conviction on 12 counts.

Jurors heard that Chan, while running the Department of Building and Safety, helped former Councilmember Jose Huizar secure $600,000 from a developer to secretly settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. They were told about payments Chan received from another developer for work he allegedly performed while working for the city.

A number of smaller storylines were also woven through the prosecutors’ case, adding to their portrayal of a city legally and ethically out of control. By the time the trial was in its home stretch, the federal government had depicted Chan as the driving force behind what they have been calling “indirect bribes.”

Chan’s legal team, in turn, said their client was simply providing job opportunities and working to get new downtown towers built.

Here are a few highlights from the two weeks of testimony:

RECRUITING SHAWN KUK

One important prosecution witness was businessman Andy Wang, who testified that he spent much of 2017 trying to find developers to purchase his home furnishing products — high-end cabinets for kitchens and bathrooms, and home automation systems.

For longtime followers of the city’s corruption saga, Wang is probably best known as the guy who handed cash to former Councilmember Mitchell Englander in casino bathrooms and later gave the FBI screenshots of Englander’s text messages. Englander was later convicted of giving false information to investigators.

Working at the direction of the FBI, Wang also did crucial work in the Chan investigation, secretly recording his conversations with the former deputy mayor.

Wang testified that Chan directed him in 2018 to secretly hire Shawn Kuk, then working as Huizar’s planning deputy, to provide referrals to businesses interested in Wang’s home furnishing products. Chan said that Kuk, who reviewed real estate projects that came before Huizar’s committee, would have access to a wide range of developers looking to build high-rises, according to Wang.

“He is the one who sees more projects than anybody. Than anybody, period,” Chan said during one secretly recorded conversation played for the jury.

Wang said Chan wanted to hide the payments to Kuk, recommending at one point that they be routed through Kuk’s mother, possibly by labeling them as housecleaning services.

“He thought that all these layers of concealment would keep him safe,” said Asst. U.S. Atty. Cassie Palmer, describing Chan’s activities.

Working with the FBI, Wang brought a $10,000 check from a fake company to a meeting with Chan and Kuk in Pasadena. Kuk declined to take the money, saying Chan should keep track of it, according to Wang’s testimony.

Neither Kuk nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment this week. In 2020, Kuk told a co-worker that he had done “nothing wrong or illegal” and had spent thousands of dollars on lawyers to clear his name, according to public records obtained by The Times.

Kuk was never charged in the case. Huizar, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to racketeering and tax evasion charges and was sentenced to 13 years.

HIRING AVE JACINTO

Wang said Chan also pressed him to hire Ave Jacinto, wife of then-public works commissioner Joel Jacinto, to handle marketing for his home furnishing company. Chan described Joel Jacinto, an appointee of then-Mayor Eric Garcetti, as “very powerful” — someone who dealt with large real estate projects and could benefit both of them, according to Wang.

Wang told the jury that Chan set Ave Jacinto’s pay at $1,000 a week, then eventually increased it. At one point, Chan said she needed the income because her husband was a city commissioner making $110,000 annually.

“Their kids need to go to college,” Chan said, according to a transcript shown to jurors by the federal government.

Wang said Chan told him to stop paying Ave Jacinto in late 2018, after FBI agents raided Huizar’s home.

Lawyers for Chan challenged the prosecution’s framing, saying Ave Jacinto provided meaningful marketing work for Wang’s firm. The defense team also disputed the notion that Wang would have felt any pressure from Chan to hire either Kuk or Jacinto.

At that time, the defense team said, Wang was working at the direction of the FBI. As a result, he would have felt no obligation to follow any of Chan’s recommendations, they said.

Neither of the Jacintos were charged in the case. Neither could be reached for comment.

AN ASK OF A WESSON AIDE

The federal government also focused on Chan’s dealings in 2017 with Deron Williams, a high-level aide to former Council President Herb Wesson. Prosecutors said Chan asked Williams to talk to Garcetti’s office about ensuring that the mayor’s appointees on the planning commission would vote in favor of the redevelopment of the Luxe Hotel.

At that point, Chan was working as a consultant for Shenzhen Hazens, owner of the Luxe, located in downtown Los Angeles.

A few weeks after speaking with Williams, Chan’s firm hired Williams’ son as a $1,000-per-month consultant, prosecutors said.

The gig did not last long. Several weeks after the commission unanimously approved the Luxe project, Chan ended his firm’s consulting arrangement with the son, prosecutors said.

Neither Williams nor his son could be reached for comment. However, Chan’s attorneys disputed the idea that the hiring was linked to the Luxe project, which called for two new high-rises near the L.A. Live complex.

Chan ended his firm’s relationship with Williams’ son shortly before the Luxe project went before the City Council, said Michael G. Freedman, one of Chan’s defense attorneys.

If Chan was looking to curry favor with Williams, he would not have fired the son before that meeting, Freedman said. After all, Williams worked for Wesson, the council president, who had the power to decide when projects came up for a vote.

Neither Williams nor his son were charged in the case.

WIRED UP

As it turned out, Wang was not the only one who made a recording for the federal government.

Former Planning Commission President David Ambroz revealed during the two-week trial that he secretly taped an April 2019 meeting with Michael LoGrande, former head of the city’s planning department.

Ambroz confirmed his activities during an aggressive cross examination by John Hanusz, another lawyer for Chan. Hanusz pressed Ambroz on his role as the co-host of several campaign fundraisers for Garcetti’s 2013 mayoral campaign. Garcetti placed Ambroz on the commission after winning.

Ambroz was a key witness for the prosecution, telling jurors he felt Chan had “leaned on” him to support the Luxe project at a May 2017 meeting. He testified that, when he cast his vote on the project, he had been thinking about the possibility that he could be pushed out of his post.

(Ambroz told the jury that each city planning commissioner was required to sign an undated resignation letter in case Garcetti later decided to remove them.)

In September 2017, the commission voted unanimously for the Luxe. Although Ambroz made some changes to the plan for digital billboards at that location, he kept his commission seat.

In the courtroom, Chan’s lawyers pushed back on Ambroz’ version of events — especially the idea that he was worried about his commission seat.

Hanusz pointed out that when the commission cast its vote on the Luxe, Chan had been retired from the city for more than two months. He also asked Ambroz if he had recorded his conversation with Chan, given that he went on to record a meeting with LoGrande.

Ambroz said he had not.

Approached by The Times on his way out of court, Ambroz declined to discuss the LoGrande recording. In an email, LoGrande had no comment on his meeting with Ambroz.

State of play

— MOVING FOR A MISTRIAL: Speaking of Chan, the federal judge who presided over the trial of the former deputy mayor disclosed on Friday that a juror was overheard saying they were hoping for a quick verdict. That was enough to prompt Chan’s attorney to say he would file a motion for a mistrial. The judge did not sound receptive. Chan’s first trial ended in a mistrial after his then-attorney fell ill.

— TALKING TAXES: An alliance of civic groups wants to put a measure on the Los Angeles County ballot this fall that would double the sales tax that’s being collected to pay for homeless services. The measure, if approved, would replace an existing quarter-cent tax with a half-cent tax, with proceeds going toward mental health care, substance abuse treatment, rental subsidies and other programs.

— TARGETING PRICE: The City Ethics Commission has privately accused Councilmember Curren Price of violating conflict-of-interest laws by voting on matters related to his wife’s business, according to two sources with knowledge of the case. The allegations mirror some of those contained in the ongoing Price criminal case, the sources said.

— THE DEEPEST CUT: A plan to get rid of nearly 2,000 unfilled Los Angeles city jobs would cut especially deep at the Department of Recreation and Parks, resulting in the elimination of 341 vacant positions at that agency, according to an analysis released Thursday.

— CHANGING NUMBERS: City Controller Kenneth Mejia reported this week that about 900 homeless residents died in 2023, saying that figure represented a decrease from the prior year. A day later, however, Mejia’s team changed course, announcing that the information was incomplete.

In a Friday afternoon post on social media, Mejia said his office believed that the data included “all unhoused deaths” from last year. “Today we learned the data we used included only closed cases. We will be updating our 2023 unhoused deaths analysis page accordingly,” he wrote.

— ENTER STAGE LEFT: L.A. lefties are hoping to expand the City Council’s superprogressive voting bloc this year by electing attorney Ysabel Jurado on the Eastside and business owner Jillian Burgos in the San Fernando Valley. If they prevail, the size of the bloc would grow from three to five. Their opponents, Councilmember Kevin de León and former Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, each said they have their own progressive voting records.

— TOWER TROUBLES: The 52-story Gas Company Tower, a prominent downtown skyscraper, is facing foreclosure at a time when office building owners struggle to hang on to tenants in the city’s core. The sale could complicate the city’s plan to move several agencies, including the housing department, into the tower in the coming months.

— HEADING TO COURT: A group of environmental activists sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week over its environmental review of the proposed gondola to Dodger Stadium, calling the document “fatally flawed.” The lawsuit was quickly followed by a similar one from the California Endowment, which is located along the gondola route.

— BUYER BEWARE: AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been looking to purchase some of the residential properties owned by Skid Row Housing Trust, which collapsed financially and is now in receivership. State officials have argued against the idea, saying the nonprofit group “would not be a suitable owner,” given some problems that have arisen at its properties. The foundation declined to comment.

— AN E.D. ON RVs: Mayor Karen Bass rewrote Executive Directive 3, her policy order focusing on the use of surplus public land for housing and facilities to address the homelessness crisis. On Thursday, she expanded it to include storage of RVs used by unhoused residents, among other things.

— MEET THE PRESS: City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto on Thursday held what she called her first press conference since being sworn into office in 2022, appearing alongside Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles) to discuss a bill targeting sex trafficking. “Hopefully, it’s a sign of good things to come, and stay tuned,” said Feldstein Soto, who previously said she tries to avoid “microphones and the press.”

Over the past year, critics have denounced Feldstein Soto for taking legal action against a journalist who obtained information from the LAPD through a public records request. At Thursday’s event, Feldstein Soto declined to take questions on topics unrelated to the sex trafficking bill.

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QUICK HITS

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s program to combat homelessness went into the San Fernando Valley, moving people from encampments in the city’s Shadow Hills neighborhood, which is represented by Councilmember Monica Rodriguez. Inside Safe also went to Fountain Avenue in Hollywood, which is part of Councilmember Hugo SotoMartinez’s district.

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