Former aide to LA City Councilman pleads guilty to corruption scheme

The ex-aide also admitted to lying to FBI agents when interrogated about the bribery scheme.

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Image Credit: David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

A former aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar recently pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge stemming from a “pay-to-play” bribery scheme where real estate developers and their proxies provided over $1 million in financial benefits, including cash, to the councilman and others to ensure certain real estate projects received favored treatment. The ex-aide also admitted to lying to FBI agents when interrogated about the bribery scheme.

Between 2013 and 2018, George Esparza, a former aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, and “a Los Angeles Council member who currently remains unidentified in public court documents” accepted financial benefits and agreed to perform official acts, including filing motions and voting on projects before the City Council, exerting pressure on developers with projects pending before the city, and taking official action to enhance the professional reputation and marketability of businesspersons in Los Angeles.

According to the recent plea agreement, a Chinese billionaire called “Chairman E provided defendant Esparza and Council member A financial benefits in over a dozen trips to casinos in Las Vegas and Australia. Between June 2014 and January 2018, defendant Esparza personally accepted at least approximately $32,000 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.”

On Wednesday, Esparza pleaded guilty to his participation in the pay-to-play bribery scheme involving Los Angeles City Councilmen. In his plea agreement, Esparza also admitted to lying to special agents with the FBI during interviews in June and July of 2017 by falsely stating, among other things, that he had no knowledge of any city official helping on a project in exchange for money, gifts or campaign contributions.

On March 19, political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery offense for coordinating a $500,000 cash payment to a Los Angeles City Councilmember. On March 27, the Justice Department announced that former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander agreed to plead guilty to a federal criminal charge stemming from his obstruction of a public corruption investigation related to his acceptance of gifts—including cash, hotel rooms and expensive meals—from a businessman during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs in 2017.

In November 2018, FBI agents raided the home and offices of L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, who was chairman of the City’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) at the time. Huizar’s wife, Richelle, had been campaigning to fill her husband’s council seat when his term expires this year, but she dropped out of the race following the FBI raids.

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