April 14, 2021

D.A.: No charges on apartment rented by Herb Wesson’s son

D.A.: No charges on apartment rented by Herb Wesson's son

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has decided not to file criminal charges related to an apartment rented by the son of former City Councilman Herb Wesson, saying its investigation found insufficient evidence of a crime.

The Times reported in 2019 that Wesson helped Koreatown developer Michael Hakim win city approval for a planned 27-story residential tower while his son, Herb Wesson III, was living in an apartment building owned by a company where Hakim is listed as an executive.

Wesson III went more than five years without receiving a rent increase in Unit 4 at the building, according to a Times analysis of city rent records. Three people who lived in the building over the past decade told The Times they were aware that the younger Wesson was receiving a rent break and that it was provided because his father was a councilman.

In a report released Wednesday, the D.A.’s Public Integrity Division found that Wesson III did not receive a rent hike between 2013 and 2018, even as nearly every other tenant in the 20-unit building saw one or more increases. However, the investigation also concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove Wesson III’s rent payments were connected to the vote cast by his father on the Koreatown residential tower.

The idea that Wesson III received reduced rent in exchange for that vote is “not supported by the evidence,” the report said.

When the D.A. opened its review, a spokesman for the councilman called The Times investigation “a political hit piece made up of insinuations.”

“I don’t make arrangements for my adult sons,” Wesson said in a subsequent interview last year.

A lawyer for Wesson said the former councilman, who left office in December, had no further comment Wednesday.

The former councilman’s son, Herb Wesson III, previously stated that there was “nothing special” about his lease. He declined to comment on Wednesday, as did Michael Hakim.

A D.A. investigator found that Wesson III had rented an apartment in the Rosewood Avenue building for $895 a month and received no rent increases from 2013 to 2018, when he moved into another unit. In the new unit, he paid a higher monthly rent of $1,395.

The rent payments went to Said Hakim, father of developer Michael Hakim, whose company sought approval of the Koreatown tower at City Hall between 2009 and 2015, the review found. Both Hakims communicated with city officials about the public review of the project.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Casey Higgins wrote that there can be “a variety of reasons” why a landlord might keep a tenant’s rent the same for several years.

The city’s rent control laws do not prohibit a landlord from “favoring one tenant over another tenant,” Higgins wrote.

Artist rendering of the developer’s planned apartment tower. A judge struck down the city’s approval of the project in 2018.

(City of Los Angeles)

Higgins also found that another apartment inside the Rosewood Avenue building had “very low rent much like Wesson III’s unit.” That unit was occupied by the building’s manager, former tenants told an investigator.

The investigator said one other apartment in the 20-unit building experienced no rent increases from 2013 to 2018. Everyone else in the building received at least one rent hike while Wesson III was in Unit 4, the report said.

In the 2019 Times investigation, six current or former tenants said they routinely received rent hikes inside the Rosewood Avenue building. One said she received three increases within four years.

The Koreatown tower backed by Wesson was highly controversial, drawing protests from activists who warned that it would accelerate gentrification in the surrounding neighborhood, driving up nearby rents.

The council gave Michael Hakim permission to construct a 269-unit building — twice as many units on the site as were permitted under the city’s planning rules — while also requiring a $1.2-million payment to the city for affordable housing.

Wesson, who represented the neighborhood where the tower was proposed, backed the project despite opposition from staffers inside the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission, a panel made up of mayoral appointees that rarely rejects development proposals.

Activists later sued to overturn the council’s decision. A judge struck down the city’s approval of the planned tower in 2018, the year Wesson III moved into his new, more expensive apartment.

Wesson served on the council for 15 years. He ran last year for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but lost to former State Sen. Holly Mitchell.

One piece of information in the D.A.’s report appears to be at odds with the public record. The report lists July 2013 as the date that Wesson III moved into Unit 4. However, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk told The Times that Wesson III registered to vote at that apartment in April 2012, more than a year earlier.

In addition, a rent registry kept by the city’s housing department indicated that a new tenant moved into that unit at the end of 2011, not 2013.

D.A. spokesman Greg Risling declined to provide an explanation for the discrepancy, saying the office had no additional comment.