Small-time developer plays big role in feds’ Ald. Solis investigation
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See Y. Wong was a small-time developer with big dreams for reshaping Chinatown until his ambitious projects hit the skids in the last real estate recession.
Several projects failed. Investors lost their money. Lawsuits piled up, and some of Wong’s activities came to the attention of federal authorities.
By the spring of 2014, Wong was back with a more modest project, trying to help Chinese businessman Kin Kuong Chong build a 60-room hotel on a small patch of land on the northwest corner of Clark and Archer.
It was then that Wong agreed to co-operate in a federal investigation of Ald. Danny Solis (25th), according to a court document obtained by the Sun-Times.
Just three months later, Wong made an undercover recording of Solis with House Speaker Michael Madigan as they discussed whether the hotel developer would hire Madigan’s law firm to handle its real estate tax work. At the time, Wong was helping the developer seek a zoning change from the City Council Zoning Committee chaired by Solis, who allegedly steered them to Madigan.
As the Sun-Times first disclosed Tuesday, the allegations are contained in an application for a search warrant filed by federal investigators in 2016 in a bid to search Solis’ homes and offices.
It wasn’t until after that search warrant was executed that Solis began his own cooperation with federal authorities, which sources say included him making secret recordings of Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the only person charged so far in the investigation.
The court document refers only to a “cooperating individual” identified as CS-1 who recorded Solis and Madigan, but sources have confirmed to the Sun-Times that CS-1 is Wong.
Wong, 60, did not respond to phone messages and emails from the Sun-Times.
According to an FBI agent’s sworn affidavit filed with the search warrant application, federal authorities advised Wong that he will be charged for his participation in a “fraudulent scheme that included [his] material false representations to a financial institution and purchasers of real property, and misappropriation of funds obtained from purchases through false representations.”
Wong began cooperating with investigators in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence in connection with the future charge, the affidavit states. It says prosecutors made no promises to Wong about their sentence recommendation.
Wong had previously provided information to law enforcement and “has been determined to be reliable,” the FBI agent stated.
Wong still has not been charged publicly, and the underlying scheme that got him in trouble has not been disclosed.
But court records provide clues.
Wong filed for bankruptcy in 2017, disclosing $31,000 in assets and $836,157 in debts, mostly stemming from his real estate ventures.
When his financial world collapsed several years earlier, Wong was the public face of three major projects — a different hotel project called the Grand Imperial just across Archer Avenue from the would-be hotel property referenced in the Solis investigation, a mixed use condo-hotel-retail project called Eastern Tower at 2401 S. Archer, and an 80-unit condo building at 1349 S. Wabash.
Wong can still be seen touting many of his projects from that period in videos available on YouTube.
None of those projects were ever built. In fact, in some cases Wong didn’t even own the property. But that didn’t keep him from pre-selling some of the condo units and spending the funds instead of holding them in escrow as required by law, his victims have alleged.
Three of those alleged victims — Catherine Chan, Julie Moy-Woo and Ping Chan — sued Wong in Circuit Court and interceded in his bankruptcy to try to collect on the combined $440,000 that he owes them.
Chicago attorney Scott Kummer said Wong left many other victims in his wake, but said most of them either paid Wong in cash or through complicated wire transactions in China. Kummer’s clients paid by check, which left a paper trail to pursue their claims, but have been unable to collect.
Bankruptcy trustee Gina Krol said she has not closed the case because she is still trying to ascertain the value of Wong’s interest in several limited liability corporations in which he was involved.
Even one of Wong’s few completed projects, Canal Crossings, a condo building at 2318 S. Canal, resulted in a foreclosure suit from the bank.
State records show Wong is on probation as a licensed real estate broker after serving a three-month suspension in 2016 for allegedly failing as a property developer to return all earnest money to prospective buyers and for failing to identify himself as a real estate licensee.
For many years, Wong’s signature plan was the 15-story Grand Imperial Hotel, a pagoda-topped 175-room condominium hotel at 2150 S. Clark. Each of the floors was supposed to be themed for one of the ancient Chinese dynasties. Wong would later scale it down to 100 rooms but still couldn’t get the financing.
Chong’s hotel, located on a much smaller parcel, would have been five stories and 60 rooms with no parking — the latter justified by its location near the CTA stop. Wong’s name did not appear in the zoning change application for that project.
Campaign finance records show Wong contributed $1,500 to Solis’ campaign fund in 2014. In addition, Chong made a personal $2,500 donation to Solis, and his 2020 S. Archer Hotel LLC donated $2,500 to Solis’ 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.
Wong told investigators that Solis initially indicated support for the project, then purposely tried to avoid him until he received the donation to his ward organization.
At the secretly recorded Aug. 21, 2014, meeting with Madigan, Solis allegedly told Wong that he would get “anything” he needed for the hotel if he hired Madigan’s law firm — but did so outside Madigan’s presence.
In the end, the hotel project received the zoning change it sought — with vocal support from Solis, the local alderman. But the project never went forward.
Wong had known Solis for many years. According to the affidavit, Wong told investigators that he and another Chinatown businessman had arranged for Solis to take a trip to Shanghai, China, in 2010 for a business expo.
Upon his return, Wong sent Solis an email asking how he liked the trip — and seeking assistance in obtaining a liquor license.