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Ex-mayor of Rosemead admits guilt in bribery case

John Tran, 36, admits to shaking down a developer for more than $10,000 while on the City Council. He also resigns from the school board and withdraws from an Assembly race.

February 04, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • John Tran, former Rosemead mayor and councilman, admitted shaking down a developer.
John Tran, former Rosemead mayor and councilman, admitted shaking down… (Los Angeles Times )

A former Rosemead city official who made a run for state Assembly has agreed to plead guilty to soliciting and accepting more than $10,000 in bribes from a developer.

John Tran, 36, an El Monte Union High School District board member and former Rosemead mayor and councilman, admitted shaking down a developer who was trying to build a mixed-use office and residential project in Rosemead while he was on the council, according to a federal plea agreement made public Friday.

The developer, who was not named in the court documents, had bought a vacant lot for $1.1 million and planned to build offices. At the request of Tran and two city employees, however, the developer agreed to buy an adjacent lot for $700,000 and build a mixed-use project.

Between 2005 and 2007, while project approvals were pending, Tran would periodically visit the developer, who eventually became a confidential informant in the federal investigation, and demand money, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

During that period, the developer gave Tran $10,000 in cash payments and a check for $3,200 made out to "cash," according to the plea agreement.

At one point, officials said, the developer asked why Tran had done nothing in exchange for the bribes, and Tran said he had done "this" — pointing to a staff report and preliminary design approval that suggested the project was moving forward in the approval process.

After August 2007, the developer refused to give any more payments to Tran, according to the agreement. In 2009, Tran was voted out of office; and the project, which became the subject of the federal investigation, never received final approval.

Before he was charged, Tran had thrown his hat in the ring for the 49th Assembly District seat being vacated by termed-out Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park). Tran's attorney, Michael Zweiback, said Tran is now withdrawing his candidacy and submitted his resignation to the school board Friday.

"John understands that his elected position and public service is over," Zweiback said. "He's done a lot of good things for the community, and he wanted to spare his constituents and his family the pain of a long trial."

A biography on Tran's campaign website touts his achievements on the City Council and says that as a school board member "he has worked to establish reforms focused on rooting out corruption in the school district."

Rosemead's current mayor, Steven Ly, who won office in the election in which Tran lost his seat by a single vote, said that many community members had suspected Tran of pay-to-play politics before the criminal charges emerged. But Ly said the city has changed under the new council.

"I feel that we've done a good job of cleaning house since his period of time," the mayor said.

A representative of a company that may have been the one involved in the federal investigation has filed a claim against the city in an attempt to recover funds taken by Tran, Ly said. The council voted last month to reject the claim. A representative of the company could not be reached for comment.

In exchange for Tran's guilty plea, the U.S. attorney's office will not pursue additional charges of extortion and obstruction of justice, Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph N. Akrotirianakis said.

Tran faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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