She worked for L.A.’s building department. Then her name came up in an FBI warrant
It was a bombshell at Los Angeles City Hall when the news broke in January: The FBI was hunting for evidence of bribery, money laundering and other possible crimes involving some of the most powerful politicians in the city, according to a federal warrant.
Among the names on the warrant were City Councilmen Jose Huizar and Curren Price; top aides to Huizar and Council President Herb Wesson and appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti; executives from Chinese firms working to build new skyscrapers downtown.
But one name was far less familiar amid the furor: Yan Yan.
Yan worked as an accountant in L.A.’s Department of Building and Safety, the kind of bureaucratic job that would rarely draw public attention. At the same time, she was working for a private firm that helps real estate developers, one that has also come under scrutiny in the FBI probe, a Times review of city records and federal documents shows.
Yan had ties to another key figure named in the warrant: Raymond Chan, the former Building and Safety chief who later worked for the same private firm where Yan was moonlighting, CCC Investment Group. Chan had signed off on hiring Yan at Building and Safety years earlier and once referred to her as a “family friend,” city records show.
Building and Safety officials formally notified Yan that she could not simultaneously work for CCC Investment Group in January, less than two weeks after news broke of the FBI warrant, city records show. Department officials said she had already been turned down verbally in December, when she first asked for permission to continue that work.
Yan, who left the department in February and worked briefly in accounting for the city-operated Los Angeles Zoo, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Building and Safety officials said her departure was not related to the warrant or her work with the outside firm.
The warrant did not say the FBI has gathered evidence of criminal activity by any of the people named, and no one has been publicly charged in connection with the investigation.
Area ‘where conflicts of interest could exist’
Moonlighting by officials at the Department of Building and Safety was raised as a potential problem in a recent review by City Controller Ron Galperin, who found the agency had failed to regularly remind employees to report any outside work — “an area where conflicts of interest could exist.”
That review did not specifically address Yan or the FBI probe, but working for both CCC and the building department could be an ethical minefield. The city agency is responsible for vetting building permits and inspecting construction; CCC has worked with real estate developers planning downtown skyscrapers to facilitate their projects.
The firm and one of its executives have assisted the developers Oceanwide and Hazens, according to government documents and an interview with a former contractor. Both companies were also mentioned in the federal warrant.
Building department officials said Yan did not work on the Oceanwide or Hazens developments. Instead, they said, she was responsible for data entry in the department’s financial services section. Emails show that she was routinely sent paperwork for office supplies that needed to be ordered.
Hana Callaghan, director of the government ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said that although it was not clear from the available information whether Yan had any conflicting roles, her two jobs could create a perception that “the developer has someone in bed with the city.”
“That’s the sense that you have from it — even if there’s nothing nefarious going on,” Callaghan said. “It raises questions about a person’s loyalties.”
Yan also stated on her resume that she was responsible for the entire refund process at Building and Safety, which allows builders to recoup money if the department never did the work associated with fees they paid.
Department officials, however, disputed that and said that Yan had not reviewed or approved refunds, although she sometimes entered data into a permit system when a company submitted a refund request.
City officials initially refused to provide outside employment records for Yan, but relented after The Times’ attorney challenged the denial in a letter, noting that the newspaper had successfully sued to obtain similar records for LAPD officers in the past.
New policy on side gigs
Yan was first hired at the building department as an accounting clerk three years ago through an emergency appointment. City agencies can make such appointments if there is no list of eligible workers for the job, according to the personnel department.
At the time, Chan headed Building and Safety and signed off on her employment. Later that year, while working as a deputy mayor under Eric Garcetti, Chan characterized Yan as a “family friend” in an email seeking to help her with a visa for an upcoming trip to Japan.
Emergency appointments can last up to a year, but Yan was retained as an accounting clerk on a part-time basis, then later selected through another emergency appointment to serve as an accountant, according to the personnel department.
Last May, her immediate supervisor became aware that Yan had a side job working with Chan but did not know in which industry or realize it could pose a conflict, according to department spokesman Jeff Napier.
In November, Building and Safety employees were urged to report outside work tied to construction or real estate that they wanted to pursue, under a newly revised policy. (The new guidance came as the Controller’s Office was still working on its review, which followed a city probe that turned up suspicious payments and falsified invoices at Building and Safety.)
Employees were also told to turn in the paperwork if they wanted to continue such outside work that had not been previously approved.
Soon after, Yan asked for permission to work with CCC Investment Group as a financial analyst on an “as needed” basis.
She listed her duties there as reviewing data to analyze market conditions for “multi-residential properties,” using different methods to recommend “the best offering price,” and helping to prepare financial and sales reports.
Kim Arther, another department spokesman, said that when the chief accountant and resource management bureau chief became aware that Yan was working with CCC in December, the request was denied verbally.
Yan informed her immediate supervisor in early January that she had stopped working for CCC, according to Arther.
Her request was rejected in writing on Jan. 23. In its denial, the department said that working as a financial analyst for the firm “creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
An FBI warrant with familiar names
By then, news of the FBI warrant had drawn media attention. In the warrant, investigators had sought records from a Gmail account linked to Chan, who left Building and Safety to become a deputy mayor and later worked with CCC as a broker and engineer.
Among the records agents were examining was a Google document headed “CCC” that listed tasks to assist several developers pursuing projects in Los Angeles, including meeting with city officials and helping to obtain permits.
The CCC document referred to a person whose name was abbreviated “YY” who was supposed to carry out a number of accounting tasks, including logging company expenses and receipts.
A copy of Yan’s resume included in city records listed stints with two companies linked to businessmen named on the federal warrant: the Sheraton Universal Hotel, which is connected to Shenzhen New World Group, and Synergy Alliance Advisors.
Synergy was also mentioned repeatedly in the “CCC” document scrutinized by agents, which included a note saying “all payroll from Synergy to be moved to CCC.” Yan indicated on her resume that she worked for Synergy through April 2018, at the same time she was employed part time as an accounting clerk at Building and Safety.
In her recent applications for jobs with several city departments, Yan included the names of three references. Two of them — Chan and Synergy executive George Chiang — were also named on the FBI warrant.
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