Who Are the Key Suspects In Leaking the Racist City Hall Audio?

Speculation abounds about the leak of hate-filled audio from an Oct. 2021 meeting as federal public corruption officials continue the City Hall sweep dubbed “Operation Casino Loyale”

As the fallout continues to unfold after the leak of surreptitiously recorded audio that exposed three powerful L.A. City Council members and a labor union leader as they colluded about voter redistricting in an October 2021 meeting, speculation is swirling about who recorded the conversation marked by racist, hateful language, and why. Here’s a look at some of those to whom eyes have begun to turn, who are currently or formerly at City Hall, or otherwise associated with the ongoing scandal.

Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to the press at Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Ridley-Thomas

Some whispers are being heard about embattled former City Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is charged along with the former dean of the University in Southern California School of Social Work with corruption and bribery over an alleged quid pro quo wherein prosecutors say that a lucrative job was granted to the councilman’s son in exchange for a contract that was ushered in for USC. The explosive October 2021 recording that leaked over the weekend was made shortly after Ridley Thomas was hit with the federal indictment and before Nury Martinez pushed his suspension from the City Council. In the audio, the now-former City Council president says that she could expel Ridley-Thomas and point the blame at “that white guy.”

“If he resigns and the African-Americans look at this as a hostile takeover because he’s gone, we’ll have to figure that s–t out,” Martinez said of Ridley-Thomas in the recording, first reported by independent journalists with Knock LA and the Los Angeles Times. “Because politically, they’re going to come after us.”

For that, she had a solution to share, telling her colleagues they could assuage Black voters by pinning the blame on City Controller Ron Galperin.

“You need to go talk to that white guy,” Martinez advised on the audio. “It’s not us. It’s the white members on this council that will motherf— you in a heartbeat.”

Ridley-Thomas, who lost his pay and health benefits, is continuing to battle his federal case. Thomas and other L.A. political insiders under federal investigation would hypothetically have access to the recording—presumably because they are entitled to any material picked up by the feds that could be used against them at trial. 

In the scandalous City Council conversation, Herrera can be heard suggesting to the churlish trio that if the Council does choose to install a replacement for Ridley-Thomas, “that person has to support the three of you.” Cedille responds, “The one who will support us is Heather Hutt.”
Ultimately, Hutt was cleared to fill the disgraced councilor’s 10th District seat in September.
Before the scandal hit, Julie Gutman Dickinson, a lawyer representing the L.A. County Federation of Labor, warned the L.A. Times in a letter that the conversation was “recorded in violation of California’s privacy and recording laws on L.A. County Federation of Labor property.” Were the Times to publish information from it, the union lawyer blustered, “it is condoning this illegal conduct.”

This forthcoming trial could include discovery materials from whistleblowers and cooperating informants, according to court records. When contacted by LAMag, Ridley-Thomas’ attorney said that they are not in possession of any wiretap recordings from government witnesses; so did a senior attorney for former USC Dean of Social Work Marilyn Flynn—who recently plead guilty to a federal charge that she bribed Ridley-Thomas.

Jose Huizar attends the Opening of the New Pedestrian Passageway at The Bloc on February 7, 2017 in Los Angeles

Councilman José Huizar/Former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan

Then there is Councilman José Huizar and former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, whose trial on corruption and racketeering charges connected to a $500,000 bribe to “grease the wheels” for a proposed downtown condominium project has been delayed until February. Attorneys representing Huizar denied obtaining discovery materials that included audio from a clandestine informant when contacted by LAMag.

When Huziar’s job went away, it was filled by none other than former State Senate President Kevin de Leon. Now the former mayoral candidate’s own political future appears to be on the line, as the leaked audio captures him giggling when Martinez referenced a two-year-old Black child with a slur for monkey. And de Leon added his own ugly commentary, suggesting the child’s father, Councilman Mike Bonin—who Martinez called “a little bitch” in the meeting—used his son as an “accessory” and likened public appearances by his colleague, who is a gay man, with the adopted boy as akin to times when Martinez carried a “Goyard or Louis Vuitton,” handbag.

Former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera

An L.A. County Federation of Labor Mole

Then there’s the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, where the meeting/racist slugfest took place, in the office of Ron Herrera, the organization’s now-former president. He was apparently unaware they were being recorded. Herrera resigned his position late Monday afternoon after sending an email to other union heads suggesting there could be a rat making surreptitious recordings in his own house.

Herrara might be right to worry. In the leaked audio, the unofficial Hispanic caucus at one point discusses the Korean Immigrant Workers Alliance, a branch of the Service Employees International Union, and Herrara speaks of one of its leaders and how he “had to put her down.”

Councilman Gil Cedillo, who initially told the Los Angeles Times that he didn’t recall the hard-to-forget racially explicit conversation, piped up with his own opinion on SEIU, saying, “To me, everything at SEIU is 100% suspect. I know this stuff.”

The “put down” individual in question is likely former Herrera ally and SEIU Executive Director Alma Hernandez; she was arrested by the California attorney general along with her husband on tax evasion and embezzlement charges in 2021.

mitch englander indictment
Mitch Englander in 2016 | Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
Former City Councilman Mitch Englander

Or perhaps there is still bad blood between former City Council member Mitch Englander, the first man to fall in the ongoing investigation into City Hall malfeasance—a man who was involved in a probe the feds nicknamed the investigation “Operation Casino Loyale.” Englander has just been released after serving a 14-month federal sentence. Which was served first at a prison in Tucson before being sent to a Long Beach halfway house. The Department of Justice put his 2021 conviction this way: “Englander became the first person to be sentenced in relation to Operation ‘Casino Loyale,’ the ongoing corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall that has also led to criminal charges against former City Council member Jose Huizar and 10 other defendants.” 

The use of “ongoing corruption investigation” here insinuates that there are cooperating informants and witnesses willing to inform on former friends and co-conspirators—dealmakers who perhaps feel burned by those in power and are ready to talk as a way to say “screw you,” as Jeff Cortese, a former special agent with the FBI’s Office of Public Corruption and the author of Public Corruption in the United States: Analysis of a Destruction Phenomenon, told LAMag.

“There are likely so many open and ongoing investigations centered on City Hall, it really could be anybody,” Cortese said. “There are those who are in the deal, those who are victimized in the deal, and those who want the deal.”

Plus, those who went to jail and others who are heading there soon. 

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