L.A. City Councilman arrested in federal corruption probe

“Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree, allegedly soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from multiple sources over many years.”

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Accused of accepting at least $1.5 million in bribes for political favors, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested Tuesday and charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The criminal complaint alleges that Huizar and his associates violated a series of laws, including bribery, honest services fraud, extortion, and money laundering.

Representing Council District 14 (CD-14), which includes downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, since 2005, Huizar also served as chairman on the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee before the FBI raided his home and offices in November 2018.

Between 2013 and 2018, Huizar allegedly conspired with his special assistant George Esparza, real estate development consultant George Chiang, and a former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and former deputy mayor to solicit bribes, participate in extortion, and commit fraud.

“The federal investigation has revealed that Huizar operated a pay-to-play scheme in the City, utilizing and commodifying the powerful Council seat of CD-14, whereby he solicited and accepted financial benefits from international (primarily Chinese) and domestic developers with projects in the City in exchange for favorable official actions,” according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.

“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree, allegedly soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from multiple sources over many years. Using the power of his office to approve or stall large building projects, Huizar worked through a web of other corrupt city officials, lobbyists, consultants and developers to line his pockets and maintain his hold on Council District 14, which he turned into a money-making criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles.”

“Mr. Huizar was busy enjoying the fruits of his alleged corruption while his criminal enterprise sold the city to the highest bidder behind the backs of taxpayers,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “As we continue to investigate this case, we urge residents, business owners and city employees to come forward with information about bribery and illegal practices in government. The FBI relies on the cooperation of others to build cases that successfully root out corruption in order to restore integrity in public office.”

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. Kim is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge John F. Walter on August 17.

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. He is scheduled to plead guilty on July 7.

On May 13, Chiang agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute. He is scheduled to plead guilty on June 26 before Judge Walter.

Last month, 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 Tuesday, Huizar was arrested and charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

“While today’s announcement on the arrest of Councilmember Huizar is not unexpected, the horrendous and disgusting allegations leveled against him and others have painted a dark cloud over our city government for a long time now,” Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez said in a statement on Tuesday. “Effective today, I will begin the process of removing him from office, so that the good people of Council District 14 and the city of Los Angeles will be fairly and honorably represented. That is our duty and we must do it.”

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