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California

Garcetti appointee named in FBI warrant quits his post

Undated handout photo of Joel Jacinto, who is a member of the Board of Public Works who was appointe
Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, appointed Joel Jacinto to L.A.'s Board of Public Works in 2015. Jacinto has submitted his resignation.
(Handout)

An appointee of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who was named in a federal search warrant filed in the FBI’s ongoing City Hall corruption probe resigned from his post Friday.

Joel Jacinto, who sat on the five-member Board of Public Works, submitted a resignation letter that went into effect immediately. His attorney, Thomas M. Brown, said in an email that Jacinto stepped aside voluntarily to avoid becoming a distraction for his agency.

“If contacted by any federal agency, he will fully and voluntarily cooperate as a witness against any individuals within city government,” Brown said. “He hopes that he will be able to return to his position as commissioner in the near future after any distraction related to his willingness to serve as a witness is completed.”

Jacinto and his wife, Ave Jacinto, were among 13 people named in the warrant, which was filed in federal court in November and reviewed by The Times last week. The warrant said agents were seeking evidence related to an investigation into an array of potential crimes, including bribery, kickbacks and extortion, possibly involving those people.

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Garcetti named Jacinto to the public works board in 2015, saying he expected him to “improve life for Angelenos” and ensure the city was working efficiently. Board members oversee such issues as street repairs, trash pickup and the city’s sewer system, earning a salary of more than $160,000 annually.

The federal search warrant named several other City Hall figures, including Councilman Jose Huizar, whose home and offices were searched by the FBI in November; Councilman Curren Price, who represents part of South Los Angeles; and Deron Williams, chief of staff to council President Herb Wesson.

Garcetti had no comment. The investigation poses some political risk for the mayor, who is weighing whether to run for president and could face questions about the probe on any campaign trail.

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Agents served the warrant on Google in July, seeking information from a private email account for Ray Chan, who served as Garcetti’s deputy mayor for economic development in 2016 and 2017. Prior to that, Chan was Garcetti’s top executive at the city’s Department of Building and Safety.

The warrant does not say the FBI has gathered evidence of criminal activity by any of the people named in the document, and there were no records attached to the warrant saying what evidence, if any, was discovered in Chan’s email account.

Jacinto, who did not attend Friday’s public works meeting, referred questions from The Times to his lawyer. Last week, he said he was unaware that he had been mentioned in a search warrant. At the time, he said his wife is an independent contractor but did not provide further details.

While serving on the board, Jacinto was assigned to work with the city’s Bureau of Engineering, which reviews permits that are provided to companies that seek to carve into streets and sidewalks as part of their construction projects.

He also was in regular contact with Chan, then a city employee, and scheduled several meetings with real estate developers or about development, according to an excerpt of his appointment calendar from 2016, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

The appointment calendar lists at least one meeting, scheduled in September 2016, about Hazens Real Estate Group. Shenzhen Hazens Real Estate Group received approval from the council the following year to demolish the nine-story Luxe City Center Hotel, located on Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles, and replace it with two skyscrapers — one for a hotel, the other for condominiums.

Investigators asked in the warrant about the Luxe Hotel and George Chiang, who is mentioned in city records as being involved with the Hazens skyscraper project. The warrant also said investigators sought information on development projects in and around Los Angeles that were “related to foreign investors,” including Hazens.

David Chaiken, a company attorney, told The Times earlier this week that Shenzhen Hazens was unable to share any information about its activities or the investigation.

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In 2016, Jacinto also scheduled at least one meeting with Chiang, according to his calendar. Chiang has been serving as chief executive with CCC Investment Group, while Chan, the former deputy mayor, has been working as CCC’s vice president of development, according to city and state records.

Prior to his city employment, Jacinto worked as a global sales coordinator for FRHI Hotels and Resorts, according to paperwork he submitted when he joined the public works board.

A significant figure in the city’s Filipino community, he also worked previously as executive director of the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, a nonprofit group based in Historic Filipinotown that focuses on economic and community development. He has been involved in other organizations and events that support Asian Americans, as well.

Leo Pandac, a former board president for the nonprofit group, said the naming of Jacinto in the warrant — and the resignation on Friday — were “shocking to everybody in the community.” Jacinto did a good job running the nonprofit, helping it grow over the course of his tenure, and frequently came with Garcetti to neighborhood cleanups in Historic Filipinotown, Pandac said.

“He’s a good man. He’s a nice man,” he added. “That’s why probably Eric hired him.”

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidZahniser

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