Bel Air Real Estate Developer Guilty of Fraud, Bribery and Obstruction for Paying $500,000 in Cash to City Officials

David Lee charged in connection to José Huizar bribes

A real estate developer and one of his companies were found guilty by a jury last week of federal criminal charges for providing $500,000 in cash to then-Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of their downtown Los Angeles development project.

Dae Yong Lee, a.k.a. “David Lee,” 57, of Bel Air, and 940 Hill LLC, a Lee-controlled company, each were found guilty of three felonies: one count of honest services wire fraud, one count of bribery, and one count of falsification of records in federal investigations.

According to evidence presented at his nine-day trial, Lee, a commercial real estate developer, was the majority owner of 940 Hill LLC and was planning on building a mixed-use development located at 940 South Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles. The development was to include 14,000 square feet of commercial space and more than 200 residential units.

In August 2016, after a labor organization filed an appeal that prevented the 940 Hill project from progressing through the city’s approval process, Lee called Justin Jangwoo Kim, a Huizar fundraiser, to request Huizar’s help in dealing with the appeal. At the time, Huizar was the chairman of the city’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, a body that oversaw many of the city’s most significant commercial and residential projects.

In September 2016, George Esparza, then Huizar’s special assistant, informed Kim that Huizar would not help the 940 Hill project for free and would require a financial benefit. In 2017, after several months of bribe negotiations, Lee provided cash totaling $500,000 to Kim to deliver to Huizar and Esparza, including in a liquor box.

Two years after paying the bribe, Lee and 940 Hill LLC impeded a federal criminal investigation by altering accounting and tax records to falsely categorize the $500,000 bribe as a legitimate business expenditure for resolving the labor organization appeal.

United States District Judge John F. Walter scheduled a September 19 sentencing hearing, at which time Lee will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for the honest services wire fraud count, 20 years for the obstruction count, and 10 years for the bribery count. Defendant 940 Hill LLC will face a statutory maximum fine of $1.5 million or twice the gross gain or gross loss from the offense.

Kim pleaded guilty in June 2020 to a federal bribery offense. Esparza pleaded guilty in July 2020 to one count of racketeering conspiracy. Both men are cooperating with the investigation and are scheduled to be sentenced in September.

The next scheduled trial in this case is against Shen Zhen New World I LLC, an entity owned by real estate developer Wei Huang – another defendant in the case. Both defendants are charged with bribing Huizar related to another downtown Los Angeles development project and are scheduled to go to trial on October 18. Huang remains a fugitive.

Huizar and former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan are scheduled to go to trial February 21, 2023, on federal charges alleging they conspired to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Huizar allegedly agreed to accept at least $1.5 million in illicit financial benefits and faces dozens of additional federal criminal charges.

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