Prosecutors: Developer gave illicit cash to LA politicians
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A real estate developer was charged Friday with making nearly $200,000 in illegal campaign contributions to committees that supported Mayor Eric Garcetti and seven other Los Angeles politicians while seeking approval to build a massive apartment complex.
Samuel Leung, 67, was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with conspiring to launder campaign contributions and bribing a lawmaker. His secretary, Sofia David, 58, was charged with the conspiracy count.
Leung funneled money through family members, employees and associates — and reimbursed many of them — in his effort to get land rezoned for the 325-unit Sea Breeze apartment building, according to the charges. It’s illegal to make political contributions using someone else’s name.
The Los Angeles Times reported more than a year ago that more than $600,000 was made in contributions over eight years from people associated with the Torrance-based Leung as he lobbied to get the $72 million project approved. Eleven donors denied or couldn’t remember making contributions and several others weren’t able to provide details about their donations, such as who they contributed to and why.
At the time, Leung told the Times he didn’t reimburse any donors, but refused further comment.
The Los Angeles City Council approved the project in the Harbor-Gateway area in 2015 on land previously zoned for industrial use.
An independent expenditure committee for Garcetti’s successful 2013 campaign for mayor received $60,000, according to the felony complaint. Janice Hahn, who is now a Los Angeles County supervisor, received $35,000 in her successful 2011 run for Congress.
The six other campaigns that received money were all for incumbents or people seeking city council seats.
No politicians or donors were charged in the scheme, but the investigation continues, prosecutors said.
Yusef Robb, a political adviser to Garcetti, said the Committee for a Safer Los Angeles was not affiliated with Garcetti, and most of what the mayor’s campaign knows about it is what they’ve read in news articles.
“This was an independent campaign committee of which we were barely aware and which we had zero involvement or communication with,” Robb said.
Garcetti supported the project because it was the right thing for the community, spokesman Alex Comisar said.
Hahn, the sister of former LA Mayor James Hahn and daughter of a longtime county supervisor, was not aware of the source of the campaign contributions and did not take action to help Leung, spokeswoman Liz Odendahl said.
“If they broke the law they should be prosecuted and found guilty,” Hahn said in a statement. “Hopefully these charges will send a message to potential donors about the serious consequences of violating campaign donation laws.”
Leung appeared in court briefly, but his arraignment was postponed until April 11. An arrest warrant was issued for David, who was not in court.
Defense lawyer Daniel Nixon said he anticipates Leung will enter a not guilty plea and vigorously fight the charges.
Leung faces a sentence of nearly five years in state prison if convicted of the charges. David faces up to a three-year term.