L.A. Councilman José Huizar Arrested and Charged with Racketeering

Federal authorities say the District 14 councilman presided over a criminal enterprise that received large sums of cash to push forward development projects

More than 18 months after a stunning FBI raid on his home and offices, and following four guilty pleas in a sprawling investigation into alleged corruption in City Hall, Councilman José Huizar has been arrested.

Huizar, 51, was arrested without incident by federal officials this morning at his home in Boyle Heights. He is scheduled to make an appearance in U.S. District Court this afternoon.

A federal criminal complaint was filed yesterday and unsealed this morning. The councilman, first elected in 2005 to represent the district that includes downtown, Boyle Heights, and portions of Northeast L.A., is charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (also known as RICO) statute.

Federal authorities have detailed a scheme in which Huizar allegedly presided over a criminal enterprise that received more than $1.5 million in exchange for pushing forward certain real estate development projects. In addition to representing the booming downtown area, Huizar was chair of the council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said this morning. “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.”

“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall” — U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna

A 116-page court affidavit details Huizar’s role in operating an alleged “pay-to-play” scheme in City Hall. It describes a “CD-14 Enterprise” that was established in 2013 and aimed to enrich members through bribery, extortion and other criminal acts. The affidavit details, among other things, Huizar alleged role in securing more than $800,000 in benefits from the chairman of a Chinese real estate firm seeking to build the tallest building west of the Mississippi River in downtown.

The benefits from the developer allegedly included trips for Huizar to Australia and Las Vegas, and on one occasion putting up the councilman in a luxury villa that costs more than $38,000 a night. Huizar also was allegedly given hundreds of thousands of dollars in casino chips by the developer.

“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 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.”

Huizar is the fifth person to be ensnared in the investigation. On May 27, George Esparza, a former top aide to Huizar, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the RICO statute. Court documents described his role in the scheme in which the chairman of the Chinese real estate firm funneled $600,000 to Huizar operatives in exchange for the councilman’s help in securing approvals for the 77-story downtown skyscraper (it has not been built). Court documents indicated that the funds were used to settle a retaliation lawsuit filed by a former Huizar employee with whom the councilman engaged in an extramarital affair. Huizar acknowledged the consensual relationship but denied the retaliation charges.

That followed a May 13 guilty plea from George Chiang, a real estate consultant also allegedly involved in directing payments to Huizar from developers to build projects in Los Angeles. Another real estate player, Justin Jangwoo Kim, has also pleaded guilty.

Additionally, former District 12 Councilman Mitch Englander pleaded guilty to scheming to falsify material facts following an investigation that detailed how he accepted payments—including $15,000 in cash and the services of an escort in Las Vegas—from a businessman seeking to grow his enterprise.

Huizar was a powerful presence in City Hall until FBI agents raided his home and offices in November 2018. Investigators today said that during the search of his home, they found $129,000 in cash in the councilman’s closet.

Huizar is termed out this year, but in 2017, he was laying the groundwork for his wife Richelle to succeed him. Previous court documents have detailed instances in which Huizar operatives allegedly pressured local real estate players to contribute large sums to political action committees supporting her run for the seat.

Richelle Huizar formally launched a campaign for the District 14 seat in September 2018. She dropped out less than two months later, shortly after the raids.

At a morning news conference, Hanna repeatedly stressed that the investigation is “ongoing.” He would identify any potential future targets.

RELATED: Bribes, Bags of Money, and Karaoke—the City Hall Corruption Probe Keeps Getting Wilder

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