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UC Riverside official is accused of taking bribe

An associate campus design director solicited cash from an Irvine contractor, the FBI says.

January 10, 2007|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

Federal agents arrested a UC Riverside administrator Tuesday on suspicion of bribing a general contractor in charge of building the school's new psychology building, authorities said.

Theodore Chiu, 53, of Riverside is accused of soliciting a $50,000 bribe from Irvine contractor FTR International Inc. last Halloween.

Chiu allegedly asked for the payment when the company's president, Nizar Katbi, raised concerns about the $35-million project, including Chiu's choice of a subcontractor, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court.

In exchange for the alleged bribe, Chiu agreed to sign a change order that would modify the university's original agreement with the company, the affidavit said.

As an associate director in UC Riverside's Office of Design and Construction, Chiu managed several construction projects.

Katbi agreed to the proposal but told federal agents before giving Chiu his first payment. Katbi cooperated with investigators by recording his meetings and conversations with Chiu, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

During a series of meetings, Chiu allegedly received $18,000 in bribes from Katbi, the affidavit said.

University officials said they weren't aware of the investigation until Chiu's arrest Tuesday morning.

Kris Lovekin, the university's director of media relations, said she didn't know of any problems university officials had with Chiu during his 19 years in the school's design office. His salary is $108,000 a year.

Construction of the school's psychology building began in April and is scheduled for completion in June 2008.

At a November meeting between Katbi and Chiu, which federal investigators recorded, the contractor offered to write Chiu a check. But Chiu demanded cash because a check would be traceable. If Katbi didn't pay, Chiu said, he would make life difficult for the contractor and his company, according to the affidavit.

Chiu also told Katbi that he didn't like to handle more than one deal at a time, which Katbi took to mean Chiu might be soliciting bribes from other general contractors on UC Riverside projects, documents show.

Chiu initially demanded the bribe in two installments -- $20,000 before Thanksgiving and $30,000 before Christmas. But when Katbi said he was having trouble getting the money, Chiu agreed to accept smaller increments of $7,000. When Katbi was slow paying in December, Chiu withheld his authorization of funds that Katbi needed to pay subcontractors. After Katbi delivered a bribe, the funds were released, the affidavit said.

Chiu is expected to appear at 11 a.m. today for a bail hearing in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana. If convicted, Chiu faces a possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

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sara.lin@latimes.com

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