LA property developer bribes council member with Aussie casino trip

by William Brown Last Updated
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A billionaire Chinese property developer is alleged to have bribed a Los Angeles City Council aid with US$32,000 in casino chips and a trip to Australia.

News.com.au reports the LA City Council has been rocked by allegations that a Chinese billionaire is involved in paying for luxury trips to Australian and Las Vegas casinos and escort services, in exchange for help to build “the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.”

Federal prosecutors have secured four plea deals, with the investigation ongoing.

Further high-profile scalps are expected.

George Esparza, a former special assistant to the chair of the council’s planning and land use management committee is the latest.

He admitted accepting “over a dozen trips to casinos in Las Vegas and Australia” from the Chinese billionaire property developer, known in court documents as “Chairman E”.

“Between June 2014 and January 2018, defendant Esparza personally accepted at least A$45,760 (US$32,000) in gambling chips, plus flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxurious hotels, expensive meals and alcohol, spa services, event tickets and escort services from Chairman E,” the plea agreement filed in the US District Court states.

Esparza is cooperating with investigators.

Prosecutors allege the pay-to-play bribery scheme involved real estate developers and their proxies providing more than US$1 million in financial benefits, including cash to Esparaza’s former boss, known as Council Member A, and others, to ensure favourable treatment for real estate projects.

One of Chairman E’s alleged projects was the redevelopment of a downtown LA property into a 77-storey skyscraper, making it the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Chairman E is also alleged to have provided more than $1 million in bribes to Council Member A, including US600,000 for them to confidentially resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit.

The plea agreement describes a 2016 trip to Australia where Esparza and the council member accepted financial benefits from Chairman E, including private jet flights, US$10,980 commercial airline tickets, hotels, meals, alcohol and casino chips.

Esparza and the council member allegedly cashed the chips to Australian dollars and discussed how to evade bank reporting requirements when they converted it to US currency.

“They are asking me for my driver’s licence and social security for IRS record. Do you think it’s fine to leave my info?” Esparza wrote.

The council member responded.

“No. Maybe we can change a little at a time…under $10,000 in future.”

Japanese lawmaker indicted on fresh charges

A Japanese lawmaker who played an instrumental role in the legalisation and promotion of casino gambling has been indicted on bribery charges.

Casino News Daily reported in January that Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party was served with a fresh arrest warrant on Tuesday for allegedly receiving millions of yen from a Chinese gambling company to spearhead its bid to build a casino in Japan.

Akimoto was arrested on December 25 over allegations he had received cash from Chinese online sports lottery company 500.com to help it win a licence for an integrated resort with a dedicated casino floor in Hokkaido.

The lawmaker served as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office for about a year and was tasked with overseeing the drafting of a policy allowing for the development of up to three casino resorts in Japan.

Akimoto was indicted on charges of taking a 3 million Japanese yen bribe from 500.com advisers in his office in Tokyo in late September, 2017, when the House of Representatives he was a member of was dissolved for a snap election by Prime Minister Abe.

Along with his indictment, the disgraced lawmaker was also served with a new arrest warrant for allegedly taking more money than what the initial evidence showed.

Tokyo prosecutors served Akimoto with a fresh arrest warrant for allegedly taking an addition 2 million Japanese yen from 500.com and for admitting that the expenses for a trip worth 1.5 million Japanese yen to the gambling operator’s corporate headquarters in Shenzhen, China were, too, covered by 500.com.

According to prosecutors, the lawmaker accepted more than 7 million Japanese yen in bribes in cash and the form of trip expenses altogether.

Aside from his visit to 500.com’s headquarters, the company also allegedly treated Akimoto to a family trip to Hokkaido in February 2018.

The lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing and has told investigators that he did not remember taking cash from 500.com and that his secretary was the person who dealt with all payments for his trips.

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