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D.A. looks into bribe allegations

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is investigating allegations that the Temple City mayor and two City Council members solicited tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and a condominium from a developer in exchange for their support of a $75-million mall project.

Randy Wang, developer of the proposed Piazza at Temple City, said in court documents that City Council members David Capra and Judy Wong solicited bribes as a condition of supporting the development. He also accuses Mayor Cathe Wilson of demanding a condominium or $48,000 in cash for her help on the project.

Capra and Wilson denied the accusations in interviews.

“My name has been dragged through the mud and I haven’t done anything wrong,” said Capra, adding that he had never spoken to Wang.

“I never asked for a condo,” Wilson said. “That is not true.”

Wong declined to comment, except to say that “the truth will come out.”

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David Demerjian, head of the Public Integrity Division of the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors are investigating the accusations. But he declined to comment on a statement by Wang’s attorney, Patrick Duffy of Monteleone & McCrory, that prosecutors had subpoenaed recorded telephone conversations between the developer and city officials.

“We received a complaint and are conducting an investigation,” Demerjian said. “But there are aspects which are confidential that we cannot disclose.”

In California, it is illegal to record confidential conversations without consent from all parties. However, a person can legally record a private telephone conversation without informing the other party if that person has been threatened with extortion.

Even if the conversations were recorded illegally, the tapes can be used as evidence as long as law enforcement did not play a role in taping them, said Jean Rosenbluth, a USC law professor and former federal prosecutor who specializes in criminal law.

The proposed Piazza mall project, at the corner of Las Tunas Drive and Rosemead Boulevard, would include 124,600 square feet of retail space, restaurants, banquet facilities and a food court. Original plans also included 52 one-bedroom condos, but that part of the development was scrapped.

The City Council approved the project in May 2006. But the development was stalled once because of a dispute over the project’s management team and again after the city filed a lawsuit against Wang in April 2008 for failing to meet project deadlines, according to court documents.

In his response, as part of discovery leading up to a July 2009 trial, Wang made a slew of allegations against the San Gabriel Valley city and the three elected officials regarding his project. Wang alleged in court documents that the city and its redevelopment agency interfered with his efforts to build the mall in a timely manner by insisting that his firm, TCD Enterprise Inc., hire specific project managers, architects, attorneys and advisors.

He also alleged that the city was trying to hinder the project’s construction schedule so it could take over the development site by eminent domain.

In January 2007, Wang alleged, project manager Jay Liyanage advised him to give $5,000 each to Wong and Capra’s campaigns and $3,000 to the campaign of Scott Carwille, who lost his bid for a council seat. The mayor had recommended Liyanage for his job as project manager, said Duffy, Wang’s attorney. Liyanage made the payments in cash and delivered them in white envelopes to another party at Live Oak Montessori School in Arcadia, according to court records. On June 8, 2007, Liyanage was fired for misconduct, Wang alleged.

In response to Liyanage’s firing, Wilson ordered Wang to City Hall. “We worked hard to get you the project, don’t forget our share,” Wilson told Wang, according to court records.

Capra, who was also at the meeting, allegedly told Wang, “If you are in default, we can take your property away at 5 p.m., you know that?”

Wang also alleged that Wilson made more specific demands from him, dating back to March 2005.

At that time, Liyanage had reported to Wang that Wilson stated she wanted a condominium after the project was completed, according to court records.

In May 2005, Wilson met with Liyanage and Wang at Santa Anita Golf Course in Arcadia, and at that meeting Wilson repeated her demand for a condominium from Wang after the mall project was built, Wang alleged.

“Mr. Liyanage later told Mr. Wang that Ms. Wilson needed to be taken care of because she was helping the project proceed,” court records say.

On May 2, 2008, Councilwoman Wong called Wang to tell him the mayor wanted $48,000 in cash instead of a condo to move the project forward, Wang alleged. Wong also said Capra wanted $50,000, according to court records.

The next day Wong called Wang again. “Even if you give her a condo today, I don’t care, OK, because the most important thing is to complete this building. . . . Of course, I do not like corruption,” Wong said, according to court records. “However, sometimes if one does some of these things, it will at least make things easier.”

The developer and the city had initially agreed that the Piazza mall project would be completed by August 2009. But Wang alleged that the time frame was dictated by the city “without any basis in reality” and was “unrealistic in view of all the work that would have to be done.”

He went on to accuse the city of prohibiting businesses along Las Tunas Drive from renting to tenants “with the hope the properties would be vacant, thus enabling the city to declare the area ‘blighted’ so it could more easily confiscate the property through eminent domain.”

The July trial date on the city’s lawsuit against Wang has been suspended because of the district attorney’s investigation, said Duffy, Wang’s attorney.

Last month, the city manager and the three elected officials -- Wilson, Capra and Wong -- testified before a county grand jury about the bribery allegations, Duffy said.

Today, the 3.7 acres set aside for the Piazza mall are an empty lot, overgrown with weeds and surrounded by fencing.

Facing the busy intersection is a sign with bold lettering, advertising that the Piazza is “coming soon in 2010.”

A few feet away, a smaller, bright red sign reads, “Happy New Year from Piazza!”

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catherine.ho@latimes.com


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