YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Salacious Turn in Wong Case

Prosecutors allege that the Hahn power broker who faces bribery charges treated a deputy mayor to massages that led to sexual activity.

October 04, 2006|Ted Rohrlich and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

While receiving bribes from a company seeking a new port contract, former Hahn administration power broker Leland Wong repeatedly sought to influence then-Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards by treating him to massages that included sexual favors, prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

Outlining their case against Wong for the first time after his indictment in August on public corruption charges, the prosecutors cited testimony by Edwards that Wong paid for a number of massages for him at the Bonaventure Club, a spa that leases space at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Under a grant of immunity, Edwards also told a county grand jury that some of the massages ended with a masseuse masturbating him. At the time he received the massages, Edwards was the deputy mayor in charge of three major city departments: the port, the airport and the Department of Water and Power.

Prosecutors outlined their case in court papers opposing a defense request to seal portions of the grand jury transcript dealing with the massages.

Janet Levine and Jeffrey Rutherford, Wong's attorneys, issued a statement saying that "the evidence at trial will show that Leland Wong operated lawfully at all times."

Donald Re, Edwards' attorney, said his client was not influenced by the massages to assist Wong or any company doing business with the city. "I think it's much ado about nothing," Re said. "I think it's lurid without any substance."

As part of the case against Wong, prosecutors reported to the grand jury that a number of masseuses interviewed at the club denied providing sexual favors. A manager at the club contacted Tuesday night noted that it has a new owner and is under new management but otherwise declined to comment.

Edwards assumed responsibility as deputy mayor for the port, airport and municipal utility after serving as former Mayor James K. Hahn's chief political fundraiser, "despite his complete lack of experience in any of these areas," said Deputy Dist. Attys. Max Huntsman and May Chung in a court filing opposing the effort by Wong's attorneys to keep the grand jury testimony secret.

Wong's attorneys argued that it was so salacious it could harm his opportunity to receive a fair trial and was irrelevant to adjudicating the criminal charges against him.

"Mr. Edwards' personal decision to seek sexual favors or allow them to proceed without saying 'no,' will be unfairly linked to Mr. Wong, his case, and his good character," Levine and Rutherford argued in their motion.

In ordering the testimony unsealed, Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson ruled Tuesday that the disclosures would be unlikely to prejudice the jury pool and appeared relevant to charges that Wong embezzled funds from Kaiser "for an improper personal use." Attorneys for the Los Angeles Times and NBC had objected in court papers to the attempt to keep the material out of public view.

The case against Wong focuses on his interactions with Edwards when both served in the Hahn administration, which ended last year.

One of Edwards' assignments was to persuade some air carriers, including EVA Air, to shift cargo operations from crowded LAX to less-traveled Ontario airport. EVA Air is operated by the Taiwan-based Evergreen Group, one of the world's largest shipping lines.

Edwards told the grand jury that he often looked to Wong for advice, and as a member of the city's Airport Commission, Wong helped him persuade EVA Air to move.

But Wong had another, secret, agenda, prosecutors said. Allegedly unbeknownst to Hahn or Edwards, they said, Wong was on the payroll of the Evergreen Group, which had operations both at the airport and the port.

Wong had approached an Evergreen shipping executive, Ren-Gung Shyu, and said that, for a fee, he could help the company renegotiate a more favorable lease at the port and get the use of more land there, prosecutors said.

Shyu agreed that Evergreen would pay Wong $5,000 a month. Prosecutors have charged Wong with receiving 20 of these payments, which they describe as bribes, and which were deposited in his Hong Kong bank account.

Neither Shyu nor Evergreen has been charged.

Wong urged Edwards to push the port to work with Evergreen because Evergreen had decided to help the city by moving its air cargo operation to Ontario, prosecutors said.

When low-level port officials balked at giving Evergreen a credit it was seeking in renegotiating its lease, prosecutors said, Wong "intervened once again and hounded Edwards on the importance of giving Evergreen the terms it wanted.... As a result, Edwards sent the port executive director, Larry Keller, and Harbor Commissioner James Acevedo to replace the port negotiation team to ensure that Evergreen got what it wanted."

Even after Hahn shifted Wong from the Airport Commission to the Water and Power Commission in 2003, "Wong continued to badger Edwards to provide Evergreen with everything it wanted at the port," they said.

Los Angeles Times Articles