LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge rejected former Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's request to cut down the massive racketeering case in which he's accused of running a criminal enterprise that collected at least $1.5 million in bribes from real estate developers to facilitate their projects in downtown LA.
At a hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge John Walter denied the various requests by Huizar and his co-defendants to either dismiss or strike the multiple charges they face, including the 452 so-called overt acts listed in the government's indictment to support the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) charge.
Huizar's attorney Charles Snyder told Walter he is worried the government is taking a "kitchen sink" approach to throw everything before the jury without differentiating between which of the suspected overt acts were criminal and which weren't criminal but merely seemed suspicious.
The judge disagreed and said he would instruct the jury clearly how to interpret the evidence. The government must establish there was a criminal enterprise and that the underlying overt acts, such as setting up a meeting, are not offenses that need to be proven at trial, he said.
"An overt act doesn't have to be itself criminal," Walter said. "They can still be relevant and may not be innocent."
Huizar, 53, served as downtown LA's representative on the City Council from 2005 to 2020, a period that saw an unprecedented development boom in the area with foreign money pouring into ambitious residential and hotel projects. He also chaired the city's influential Planning and Land Use Management Committee until November 2018, when the FBI raided his offices and home.
During the search of his home, FBI agents found about $129,000 in cash stashed in Huizar’s closet, which prosecutors say Huizar received from a Chinese billionaire and another businessperson seeking favors from him. A number of Huizar's former associates have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the prosecution.
According the Justice Department, Huizar leveraged his power to schedule meetings and votes at the Planning Committee to put pressure on developers with projects pending before the city so that he could extract additional benefits from them.
The judge was more amendable to requests by some of the real estate developers accused of bribing Huizar to sever the charges against them from the case against Huizar and former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, because of the risk that the jury would convict them based on evidence that didn't pertain to them. He instructed the government to submit an offer of proof for him to decide whether separate trials are needed.
Huizar, who pleaded not guilty to all charges in August 2020, is the first sitting elected Los Angeles official to face federal racketeering charges.
According to the indictment, a Chinese developer gave Huizar $600,000 in 2014 to help him settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former staffer due to concerns that details of the lawsuit could threaten Huizar’s 2015 re-election campaign.
After Huizar won re-election, prosecutors say he continued to receive lavish bribes from developers who sought favorable votes from him, including luxurious trips on private jets, stays at casino villas and a trip to Australia.
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