POLITICAL CORRUPTION COMES HOME TO LA COUNCIL—In what could be the tip of a corruption iceberg, a political fundraiser has agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery offense for coordinating a $500,000 cash payment that was intended to secure the help of an elected member of the Los Angeles City Council in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of a major real estate development project in the councilmember’s district.
In a plea agreement filed this morning in federal court, Justin Jangwoo Kim, 53, a longtime resident of Hancock Park who recently relocated to Mar Vista, agreed to plead guilty to one count of federal program bribery. In addition to pleading guilty, Kim has agreed to cooperate with an ongoing public corruption investigation being conducted by federal authorities.
According to his plea agreement, Kim is a real estate appraiser and consultant who was one of the top fundraisers for a member of the Los Angeles City Council – “Councilmember A” – who was member of the City’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM). Beginning in early 2017, Kim was also a close political ally of Councilmember A’s staff member, who is identified in court documents as “City Staffer A-1.” Kim admitted that he supported Councilmember A’s and City Staffer A-1’s succession plan, including the need to ensure the election of Councilmember A’s relative to the Los Angeles City Council once Councilmember A’s term expired. Kim was motivated to help Councilmember A maintain power because Kim would be poised to financially benefit from potential illicit schemes in Councilmember A’s district.
The bribery scheme was triggered in the summer of 2016, when a labor organization filed an appeal claiming a real estate project violated requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. The appeal prevented the project from progressing through the city’s approval processes, including approvals by the PLUM Committee and City Council. After the appeal was filed, a person identified as Developer C called Kim and asked him to obtain Councilmember A’s assistance with the appeal on Developer C’s project.
On September 1, 2016, Kim met with Councilmember A, City Staffer A-1, and Developer C at a Korean karaoke establishment in Los Angeles. At this meeting, Councilmember A agreed to help Developer C with resolving the issues related to the project. At a lunch meeting the following day, City Staffer A-1 told Kim that Councilmember A would not help the project for free and that Councilmember A would require a financial benefit in exchange for help ensuring the project moved forward through the city approval process.
During a series of meetings and communications in late 2016 and early 2017, Developer C and Councilmember A – through Kim and City Staffer A-1 – negotiated a $500,000 bribe payment.
In February or March 2017, Developer C met Kim at a commercial building in Los Angeles and gave Kim $400,000 in cash in a paper bag that was intended for Councilmember A, according to the plea agreement. Kim admitted he later gave City Staffer A-1 hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to deliver to Councilmember A, but kept some cash for himself for facilitating the bribe payment. Around the same time, City Staffer A-1 informed Kim that Councilmember A held up is end of the deal and helped resolve the appeal.
In July 2017, Developer C provided the remaining $100,000 of the agreed-upon $500,000 bribe to be paid to Councilmember A for successfully resolving the appeal. Kim admitted he met with Developer C at an office in Los Angeles and received an additional $100,000 in cash from Developer C, but Kim kept this money for himself.
Kim also admitted in his plea agreement that he made a series of false statements in recorded interviews in May and July of 2017 to FBI agents who were investigating corruption in the City of Los Angeles.
Finally, in his plea agreement, Kim admitted he failed to declare any of the cash he received from Developer C for his role in facilitating the bribery scheme on his federal income tax return for 2017.
Kim has been directed to make his initial appearance in this case on March 31 at 2:00 p.m. in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Once he enters the guilty plea to the bribery charge, Kim will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
While Kim has agreed to plead guilty to the bribery offense alleged in the criminal information, he does not admit all of the factual allegations contained in that charging document.
The case against Kim is part of an ongoing public corruption investigation being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Any member of the public who has information related to this or any other public corruption matter related the City of Los Angeles is encouraged to send information to the FBI’s email tip line at firstname.lastname@example.org or to contact their local FBI Field Office. In Los Angeles, the FBI can be reached 24 hours a day at (310) 477-6565.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mack E. Jenkins, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Assistant United States Attorney Veronica Dragalin, also of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.
CityWatch will keep you informed.
(This report provided CityWatch by the US Department of Justice.)