El Monte developer arrested on felony counts

Talk about breaking news …

I just wrapped up this story running in tomorrow’s paper:

EL MONTE — Police arrested the developer of a proposed $1 billion transit-oriented project on suspicion of forgery and embezzlement, among other felony charges, authorities said Sunday.
El Monte police officers took John Leung, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Titan Group, into custody Friday evening. Leung is suspected of forgery, embezzlement, grand theft, burglary and fraud, Police Chief Tom Armstrong said.
Leung, 53, was being held at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles on $1 million bond. Calls to Titan Group Sunday went unanswered.
The El Monte-based development company is in exclusive talks with the city to build the El Monte Transit Village — a 65-acre residential and commercial complex planned for Santa Anita Avenue off the 10 Freeway.
Armstrong said Sunday Leung’s case did not in any way involve the city.
“This investigation is ongoing and the victim is not the city of El Monte … but a private citizen,” he said. “That is where we are with it right now.”
Officials released few details Sunday about the case, but Armstrong said Leung is alleged to have stolen more than $1 million from the victim.
“If you look at the charges, basically they kind of tell you there was a forgery to obtain money that was not a property of Mr. Leung,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong would not comment on whether search warrants were served on Leung or the Titan Group.
He said the Police Department had been looking into the matter “for some time,” though he would not specify how long. Armstrong said the victim was referred to El Monte police by the FBI, but he said the bureau is not participating in the department’s case.
Officials with the FBI did not return calls seeking comment Sunday night.
“I do not feel (they are) involved in any way shape or form in our case,” Armstrong said.
Late Sunday, two El Monte police cars could be seen parked to the rear of the Titan Group offices, at 10501 Valley Blvd.
Doors to the building were locked, but the lights to several offices inside were on.
The arrest took some officials in City Hall by surprise.
“I am sincerely shocked,” Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki said. “To me John has been a real visionary. It’s just shocking.”
Ishigaki said it has yet to be seen how, or if, Leung’s arrest will affect the transit village project.
El Monte has been in exclusive talks with the Titan Group since 2007 on the transit village project.
Nearly $70 million in grants have already been awarded for renovations of the El Monte Transit Center, as well as the village portion of the project.
The City Council is expected to have a closed-session meeting about the matter on Tuesday, City Manager Jim Mussenden said.
“We’re looking at the managing partnership for the Titan Group to see exactly how they are going to move forward with this,” Mussenden said. “There are still other members of the management team.”
Ishigaki said city staff members had been working through the weekend to “keep things secured.”
“Obviously the city wants to protect its investment for the future development of the site,” Mussenden said. “If there’s an issue we are going to address it … I don’t want to sit here and say we are going to be working with another developer.”
Councilwoman Patricia Wallach declined to comment on the investigation Sunday. Mayor Ernie Gutierrez and council members Juventino “J” Gomez and Art Barrios did not return calls seeking comment.
Officials expect to send their case against Leung to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office this week.
Records show Leung is due in Rio Hondo Municipal Court in El Monte on Tuesday.
Armstrong said Leung’s bail was originally set at $20,000. But investigators sought a bail enhancement because Leung is considered a flight risk.
“I frankly am not sure if he is still a citizen of China or not, but certainly he travels frequently and my understanding is (the enhancement is) due to being a flight risk,” Armstrong said.