Former L.A. County real estate official strikes plea deal in federal bribery case
By DAVID ZAHNISER and NINA AGRAWAL
A former real estate official for Los Angeles County has reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty in a federal bribery case in exchange for his cooperation with the ongoing investigation.
Thomas Shepos, 68, will plead guilty to two felonies — making false statements to the FBI about bribes and kickbacks and signing a false 2014 tax return — under a plea agreement filed Wednesday.
Shepos, who lives in Palmdale, said in the agreement that he failed to report $434,000 in bribes and kickbacks received over seven years while working for the county’s real estate division. His 2014 return failed to identify $139,000 in income, including more than $100,000 in bribe payments, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department.
“Corrupt officials who abuse their power to line their own pockets undermine the public’s trust in government,” U.S. Atty. Nicola T. Hanna said in a statement. “We are committed to ending these backroom deals and bringing these criminals to justice.”
Shepos is expected to enter his guilty pleas this month. In the agreement, he disclosed that he had received payments for not just a lucrative $45-million government lease but also an assortment of county contracts for electrical work.
Joel Koury, an attorney for Shepos, said in a statement that his client “made a serious mistake when he started accepting money following a contentious divorce that left him hopelessly trapped in debt.”
“For the last few years, he has fully cooperated, helping to track down wealthy vendors that were taking advantage of government connections to enrich themselves,” Koury said.
Sachi A. Hamai, the county’s chief executive, called the plea agreement “an important justice system milestone” and said the county had imposed new policies for overseeing leasing activity.
“We expect all Los Angeles County workers to adhere to the highest standards of ethical behavior as they conduct the public’s business, and this ex-employee’s admitted offenses represent an egregious betrayal of the public trust,” she said in a statement.
Shepos was assigned to the county CEO’s real estate division for nearly two decades and, according to prosecutors, had “significant authority” over contracts and leases. He admitted accepting bribes over several years from real estate developer Arman Gabaee, who was seeking a lease from the county’s Department of Public Social Services at a property he owned in Hawthorne.
Gabaee, known professionally as Arman Gabay, was charged with felony bribery and wire fraud in May. Prosecutors said Gabay, who has been a managing partner with the West Hollywood development firm Charles Co., gave Shepos monthly bribes of $1,000 or more and at one point sought to buy a home for him in Santa Rosa.
Gabay pleaded not guilty this year. He did not respond to an inquiry from The Times, and his lawyer declined to comment.
Shepos faces a maximum of eight years in prison. In his plea agreement, he also admitted accepting bribes of $250,000 to $300,000 from an electrical contractor in exchange for his help in obtaining as many as seven county contracts.
The unnamed contractor paid Shepos two to three times a year, typically in envelopes containing $50 and $100 bills, according to the agreement. Shepos, in return, provided information on whether the county had received bids for particular jobs.
In November 2016, Shepos lied to investigators, telling them he had not received anything of value from people seeking contracts or leases from his agency, according to the plea agreement. He also admitting to lying about $25,000 in bribes that he received, falsely claiming the money represented gambling proceeds.
David Zahniser covers Los Angeles City Hall for the City-County bureau. He joined the Los Angeles Times in 2007 and previously wrote on local government for the Claremont Courier, Pasadena Star-News, the Daily Breeze, the L.A. Weekly and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a graduate of Pomona College and lives in Los Angeles.
Nina Agrawal is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. She previously reported for WLRN-Miami Herald News and for the Latin American affairs magazine Americas Quarterly. A Southern California native, Agrawal is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs.