Charges Added to LA City Councilman in Corruption Probe

Screenshot of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar during a meeting at City Hall in December 2019.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal grand jury added 34 additional criminal charges against Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar on Thursday in an ongoing corruption probe into a massive pay-to-play developer scheme.

Last month, Huizar was arrested and charged with federal racketeering according to a criminal complaint that detailed bribes paid to the councilman for favorable votes on committees he sat on that would allow for developer projects to be built in his district.

A federal grand jury on Thursday returned a 34-count indictment against Huizar and claims over 402 overt acts by the councilman and his co-conspirators in a wide-ranging political corruption scheme.

Cash bribes were delivered to Huizar in liquor boxes, while $800,000 from an unnamed wealthy Chinese developer was used to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit for Huizar with a former aide in his council office.

In March, former councilman Mitch Englander pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal probe of his actions. Prosecutors say a real estate developer showered Englander with cash, trips and expensive meals.

In a separate plea agreement, Justin Jangwoo Kim — a 53-year-old real estate appraiser and political fundraiser — pleaded guilty to coordinating a bribe for an unnamed councilman to advance a developer’s project.

In May, real estate broker George Chiang pleaded guilty for his involvement in the pay-to-play scheme which prosecutors detailed in an indictment, which included a criminal enterprise perpetrated by an unnamed councilman.

Former Huizar aide George Esparza pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in a scheme to solicit and accept bribes on behalf of Huizar.

According to the grand jury indictment, one overt act included Huizar asking Chiang to book him a trip to Cuba for Huizar and a woman he was having a secret relationship with. Other overt acts ranged from official votes taken by Huizar to benefit developer projects to other less official acts, like requesting $1,000 for liquor or making sure that an unnamed lobbyist was using an encrypted texting app to communicate with him.

“Confide is good for texting because it is like Snap Chat…message disappears,” wrote Huizar.

The indictment also says Huizar used family members to launder money for him.

According to prosecutors, Huizar met with Esparza at his home and said he could keep $100,000 because Huizar expected a $400,000 bribe from the developer. Huizar told Esparza to hold onto the money until he asked for it.

But in December 2017, Huizar had trouble getting the money back and the two met at a private bathroom in city hall, where Esparza told Huizar about being questioned by the FBI in the ongoing corruption probe. According to the affidavit, Huizar was recorded saying, “And secondly, um, look, uh, I have a lot of expenses now that with [Relative A-1] running, [Relative A-1]’s not going to be working anymore. I’m gonna need money. Um, that is mine, right? That is mine.”

According to the federal indictment, Huizar told federal prosecutors in April 2019 that he did not want the money and told Esparza it was all his, which prosecutors say was a lie.

Huizar was first elected in 2005 and was suspended after his arrest. His seat on the city council remains vacant.

He is set to appear in a federal courtroom in LA on Monday, Aug. 3 for his post-indictment arraignment.

%d bloggers like this: