Disgraced Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar has played it pretty quiet as federal investigators and prosecutors build a corruption case against him. This week, however, the former District 14 council member’s legal team took a new tack: They initiated a move to get the case thrown out.
The attempt was revealed in a report from the City News Service, based upon filings from Huizar’s legal representatives.
According to the news story, attorneys claim that the “federal corruption statutes brought against the defendants are ‘overbroad,’ repeatedly transgress the Supreme Court’s limits on such charges and violate the statute of limitations.”
The motion to dismiss the case also asserts that prosecutors confused favors as bribes, particularly when it came to downtown business interests.
It is the latest move in the attention-grabbing case against the onetime City Hall power broker who was ensnared in what investigators dubbed Operation Casino Loyale. Huizar was arrested at his Boyle Heights home in June 2020, and was soon forced from office. In October, Kevin de León was sworn in to represent the district, which includes downtown, Boyle Heights, and communities in Northeast L.A.
Jack Weiss, who is both an ex-federal prosecutor and a former member of the Los Angeles City Council, noted that the case has been meticulously prepared by the Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. While emphasizing that he has not read the motion from Huizar’s attorneys, and is unable to comment on its merits, he stated, “This has been an exceedingly thorough investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office and is one of the most legally and factually detailed corruption cases I have ever seen.”
Weiss, who now runs Pacific Intelligence & Cyber, a Los Angeles investigation boutique, added, “You don’t file a case of this magnitude without expecting it to be challenged every which way, so I would expect the U.S. Attorney’s office is prepared and will respond accordingly.”
A source familiar with federal investigations raised eyebrows at the “overbroad” assertion in the filing, saying it is a legal term not typically employed with criminal cases. The figure also doubted that the tactic of questioning the statute of limitations will gain credence with a federal judge.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the figure said, “are more than familiar with the federal statute of limitations.” The person added, “The first thing a prosecutor looks at is the statute of limitations.”
Nine people have been charged as investigators seek to uncover the depths of a City Hall pay-to-play scheme built around the real estate development sector. Former District 12 Councilman Mitch Englander, the first person to be arrested, pleaded guilty, and in June began serving a prison sentence at a penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona. He is scheduled to be released next May, according to prison records.
Five people, including former Huizar aides, have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with investigators. Two development companies have agreed to pay substantial fines.
Huizar and Raymond Chan, a former deputy mayor and general manager of the city Department of Building and Safety, are the current most prominent targets of a 41-count federal indictment alleging that a crew referred to as the “CD-14 Enterprise” engaged in racketeering, bribery, honest services fraud, and other crimes. Prosecutors allege that Huizar received more than $1.5 million in illicit funds from developers seeking to do business in downtown, with money often passing through or being held by Huizar employees, and associates. Court filings reveal ostentatious trips to Las Vegas and China.
Huizar and Chan have both steadfastly maintained their innocence.
Huizar took office in 2005, and eventually became chair of the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which has immense sway over proposed development projects in the city. During his tenure downtown saw a momentous revival, with billions of dollars in investment leading to luxurious housing towers and hotels opening, tens of thousands of new residents streaming to the area, and a bevy of shops landing on Broadway and other streets.
The City News Service story said that Huizar’s legal team claimed the councilman’s work propelled the community forward, and argued that his “only crime was acting as an ‘evangelist for robust development.’”
The source familiar with federal investigations questioned how that aspect of the brief would convince a judge to toss a case, and suggested that instead the aim may be to prepare an argument that could be used in a trial, framing a scenario in which Huizar, as a councilman, improved downtown, only to be targeted by overzealous prosecutors.
Huizar and Chan are scheduled to stand trial next June. According to the City News Service article, a hearing to discuss the new motion is set for November 15.
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