LA scandal linked to Aust casino trip

Peter Mitchell, AAP US Correspondent

Los Angeles City Council has been rocked by a pay-to-play scandal allegedly involving a Chinese billionaire, luxury trips to Australian and Las Vegas casinos, escort services and a proposal to build "the tallest building west of the Mississippi River".

Federal prosecutors have secured four plea deals, with the investigation ongoing and more high-profile scalps expected.

George Esparza, 33, a former special assistant to the chair of the council's planning and land use management committee, is the latest.

Esparza admitted accepting "over a dozen trips to casinos in Las Vegas and Australia" from the Chinese billionaire property developer, known in court documents as "Chairman E".

"Between June 2014 and January 2018, defendant Esparza personally accepted at least approximately $US32,000 ($A45,760) in gambling chips, plus flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxurious hotels, expensive meals and alcohol, spa services, event tickets, and escort services from Chairman E," the plea agreement filed in the US District Court states.

Esparza is cooperating with investigators.

Prosecutors allege the pay-to-play bribery scheme involved real estate developers and their proxies providing more than $US1 million in financial benefits, including cash, to Esparza's former boss - known in court filings as Councilmember A - and others to ensure favoured treatment for real estate projects.

One of Chairman E's alleged projects was the redevelopment of a downtown LA property into a 77-storey skyscraper, making it the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Chairman E allegedly provided over $US1 million in bribes to Councilmember A, including $US600,000 for Councilmember A to confidentially resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit.

The plea agreement describes a 2016 trip to Australia where Esparza and Councilmember A accepted financial benefits from Chairman E including private jet flights, a $US10,980 commercial airline ticket, hotels, meals, alcohol and casino chips.

Esparza and Councilmember A allegedly cashed the chips to Australian dollars and discussed how to evade bank reporting requirements when they converted it to US currency.

"They are asking me for my driver's licence and social security for IRS record. Do you think it's fine to leave my info?" Esparza wrote, according to the plea agreement.

Councilmember A allegedly responded: "No. Maybe we can change a little at a time ... under 10k in the future".

Esparza has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation (RICO) statute.

He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.