Politics

Developer gave illicit cash to Los Angeles politicians, prosecutors say

File: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers remarks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th annual Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
File: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers remarks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th annual Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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 complex in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood, according to the charges. It's illegal to make political contributions using someone else's name.

The Los Angeles Times previously reported on questionable contributions from people associated with the Torrance-based Leung as he lobbied to get the $72 million project approved. The Los Angeles City Council approved the project in the Harbor-Gateway area in 2015.

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.

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.

Hahn, the sister of former L.A. 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.

This story has been updated.