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Chinese development firm fined $4 million in LA bribery case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A company owned by a billionaire Chinese real estate developer was fined $4 million on Friday for bribing a Los Angeles city councilmember for help in getting a downtown skyscraper approved.

Shenzhen New World I LLC was given the maximum penalty and was also placed on five years of probation, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter said the case exposed the “crushing costs of public corruption,” according to the statement.

A federal jury found the company guilty last year of bribery, honest services wire fraud and interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery.

Shenzhen's owner, Wei Huang, 57, also was charged in the federal case but he is a fugitive and is believed to be in China, prosecutors said.

From 2013 to 2018, Shenzhen provided more than $1 million worth of bribes to José Huizar to help obtain city approval to build a 77-story tower that would have been the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River, prosecutors said.

It was never built.

At the time, the councilmember chaired the city’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

Huizar allegedly received cash, casino gambling chips, luxury stays in Las Vegas, expensive meals, prostitution services, political contributions and funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

However, the project wasn’t approved.

Prosecutors say the bribes were part of Huizar’s pay-to-play scheme tied to approval of downtown developments.

Huizar pleaded guilty in January to racketeering conspiracy and tax evasion. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 25. Under a plea agreement, Huizar agreed to seek a sentence of at least nine years in prison, prosecutors said.

Friday's sentencing was the latest step in a sweeping and ongoing City Hall corruption probe.

In addition to Huizar, a half-dozen other people have been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal charges, including Huizar’s brother, Salvador Huizar; a former Huizar special assistant, a Huizar fundraiser, a lobbyist and another real estate developer.