Judge Unseals Grand Jury Indictments in Piazza Bribery Investigation

Grand Jury delivers 21-count indictment against Carwile, Wilson and Wong

A 21-count indictment against a current and a former city official was unsealed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg on Wednesday, June 10, 2009.

Temple City councilwoman Judy Wong, former councilwoman Cathé Wilson and former state assembly and city council candidate Scott Carwile are defendants in a criminal trial alleging illegal solicitation and receipts of bribes.

Wong, the first Asian mayor of Temple City, was charged with 6 counts of asking for and receiving bribes, 1 count of soliciting to commit a crime, and 3 counts of perjury.

Former Temple City mayor Wilson was charged with 3 counts of asking for and receiving bribes and 3 counts of perjury under oath.

Scott Carwile, a former Republican state assembly candidate and Wilson’s campaign treasurer, was charged with 4 counts of perjury under oath and 1 count of violating the Political Reform Act.

All counts against the defendants, except for Carwile’s alleged violation of the Political Reform Act, are considered felonies.

If convicted, Wong, Wilson and Carwile could face jail time.

The hearing to unseal the grand jury indictments was supposed to have taken place on Monday, June 8. Officials from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office postponed the hearing because Carwile had failed to obtain legal representation.

Bail was set at $100,000 for Carwile, $150,000 for Wilson and $200,000 for Wong.

Charges stem from D.A. investigation that began in 2008

Officials from the D.A.’s office began investigating after Piazza at Temple City developer Randy Wang accused former and current city officials of soliciting bribes.

In September 2008, Wang countersued the city of Temple City, claiming he gave $13,000 to former councilman Dave Capra, Carwile and Wong in exchange for their support. He also alleged former councilwoman Wilson had demanded one of the 52 one-bedroom condominiums and $48,000 in cash.

All four had publicly denied the allegations.

Months after an official probe was launched, the prosecution filed charges against Jay Liayanage.

Liyanage, the first Piazza construction manager, pleaded guilty on May 27 to a felony charge of giving bribes to Wong, Wilson and Capra in 2006. He is expected to testify against Wilson and Wong.

A few days later, the prosecution forced the resignation of Temple City councilman Capra.

Capra pleaded guilty to failing to report a campaign contribution of $1000 or more, a misdemeanor, on June 2.

As part of his plea bargain agreement, the D.A. will not charge Capra, but he had to resign from elected office, pay a fine and agree not to run again for four years. Additionally, Capra was placed on probation for 36 months.

Defendants expected to re-appear in court on July 9

“We pursue the charges where there is credible, admissible evidence to prove the case beyond the reasonable doubt,” said assistant head deputy district attorney Jennifer Snyder in an interview with the Temple City Voice on June 11.

Snyder is temporarily taking over the Piazza investigation case, while deputy district attorney Max Huntsman is on vacation.

According to Snyder, after the grand jury lays down the indictment charges, the defendants are arraigned, in other words, they hear the charges against them. The defendants then have ten days to pick up a copy of the grand jury proceeding transcripts. Once the last defendant has had the chance to pick up the court documents, the grand jury testimonies become a public record.

A series of pre-trial hearings, other hearings, will take place, in which the defendants’ attorneys can challenge the evidence the prosecution has presented.

The next court date is July 9, 2009.

Because this investigation has yielded felony charges, all defendants will most likely be given sentences of imprisonment, should they be convicted.

Randy Wang, the developer who allegedly bribed the city officials, will not be charged, said David Demerjian, head deputy district attorney for the district attorney’s office of public integrity.

“He’s been very cooperative and forth right,” commented Demerijian. As a result, if Wang continues cooperate, he will not be charged.

Deadline looms for Piazza at Temple City project

The $75 million project, formerly known as the “Temple City Galleria” and “Piazza Las Tunas,” once promised 52 one-bedroom condominiums and a large retail center. Development plans had also proposed including a banquet facility.

The Piazza developer won approval of his project in May 2006.

From 2006 to the present, Wang has held two ground breakings and has worked with three different construction management firms. He has proposed changes three times, in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

According to the developer’s agreement signed by Wang and the city of Temple City, Wang has until August 23, 2009 to complete his project.

Last year, the city of Temple City filed a lawsuit against Wang, anticipating a breach in the Piazza development contract. This action led Wang to countersue Temple City, accusing city officials of bribery.

If city officials are found to be guilty of Wang’s allegations, the contract signed by the developer and the city would become invalid. Assuming the contract is valid, Temple City may purchase the 3.7 acre site for $5 million.

An attempt by the Temple City Voice to reach the developer’s representative in May failed.

Temple City councilmembers Fernando Vizcarra and Vincent Yu will attend a court-mandated settlement conference in July.

Since the city and the developer sued each other, approximately $171,000 in legal fees has been spent by the city, as of April 30.

Joe Buchman of Burke, Williams and Sorensen, LLP is Temple City’s special legal counsel.

 

This article was written by Matthew Wong. It is ONLY being published online at the Temple City Voice’s weblog.

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