Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Federal Judge Fines Owner of Defunct Casino $10,000 for Offering Bribery
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A federal judge yesterday sentenced Harry Hwang, 49, the owner of a defunct casino, to three years probation and fined him $10,000 for offering a bribe to Richard Loya, the mayor of Huntington Park.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. also ordered Hwang to undergo six months of alcohol treatment in a community correction center and to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
Hwang pled guilty to two counts of bribery Feb. 4.
Hatter said that there were many mitigating factors in the Hancock Park businessman’s favor, including his community involvement and the outpouring of support from members of his community.
He also granted a departure from the Sentencing Guidelines based on “imperfect entrapment” in the method the government used to bring the charges against Hwang.
On March 5 2001 then-councilman Loya brought a motion to approve Hwang’s newest business venture. The motion passed.
The next day Loya was elected mayor.
A month later, Loya alerted authorities after Hwang offered him $5,000, which included a $3,000 family vacation to Italy, in exchange for a favorable vote on a $110 million entertainment development and for wiping out some debts owed the city.
Loya told the FBI that Hwang sought to influence his position on the entertainment development by offering to retire Loya’s campaign debt, to provide political contributions to Loya and to pay for the cruise vacation, according to court documents.
Cooperating with federal authorities, Loya tape-recorded subsequent conversations with Hwang.
According to the defense, the conversations begin with Loya “putting the squeeze on” Hwang, with Loya telling him that he was no longer certain he could support the project, that adding as an aside that his latest campaign had been very expensive and he needed money.
Defense attorney Brian Hennigan said that Hwang was responding to what he thought Loya was requesting and that Loya put up the dollar figures and verbalized the request.
Hennigan also claimed his client never asked for forgiveness of his past-due debts on the casino, but only sought a delay in repayment until after the casino reopened.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Shallman argued that “imperfect entrapment” did not apply because the defendant showed not “one sign of reluctance” to pay Loya the money.
“The defendant was ready, willing and able to make corrupt payments,” the prosecutor said. “The defendant was preparing to embark on a long term, corrupt relationship” with the mayor.
Hwang, who was president of Huntington Park Casino Inc., which owned and operated the LA Casino, handed over $4,000 on Aug. 10, Shallman said.
Hatter said he empathized with the defendant and noted that “gift-giving” is acceptable in Hwang’s native Korea and other countries.
“[The cultural difference] doesn’t excuse what you did, it helps explain it,” Hatter told the defendant. “You’re conversant enough in American ways to understand American laws.”
Hatter concluded that Hwang “slipped.”
The prosecutor, who asked the judge to sentence Hwang to three years in federal prison, would not comment on the ruling except to say:
“This case should send a message to those who would take payoffs and those who would make payoffs. . . [that they] will be prosecuted aggressively by the government.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company