LOS ANGELES (CN) — The names of people ensnared in an ongoing federal bribery probe at Los Angeles City Hall trickled out during a court hearing for a city councilman who faces numerous charges including money laundering and lying to federal agents.
Suspended councilman Jose Huizar appeared in an LA federal courtroom where federal prosecutors detailed their case against him.
Prosecutors have detailed a wide-ranging criminal operation they say was orchestrated by Huizar, including wielding his power on a planning committee that is one of the major hurdles for development projects in LA.
They laid out five schemes involving Huizar in a criminal indictment, including that he accepted bribes from developers and pushed forward construction projects in his district that languished either due to stalled union negotiations or were on the verge of no longer being lucrative. Prosecutors also say the councilman boosted the reputation of business developers with official city declarations, lied to federal agents during an interview and failed to claim those bribes on his taxes.
A federal racketeering charge was filed against him this past June and a recent federal grand jury indictment added additional charges, including money laundering, bank fraud, violations of the Travel Act and lying to federal agents. He’s pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Co-conspirators, including former aides to Huizar, liaisons for business developers and former Councilman Mitch Englander have also been charged. Englander later pleaded guilty to scheming to falsify material facts.
Huizar, 51, appeared in a dark suit, tie and a cloth mask in court Wednesday. U.S. District Judge John Walter asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins if prosecutors were going to reveal the names of the numerous unidentified persons referenced in the Huizar indictment, like “Chairman C” who gave Huizar $500,000 to help move along a development project in downtown LA.
Jenkins said these persons would remain “masked” as the investigation is ongoing.
“You may think they may be masked,” said Walter. “But everyone else can figure it out.”
Walter said the numerous schemes laid out by prosecutors was confusing to track and he requested a list with all the identities of the persons.
“I started to make my own, but it becomes too cumbersome,” said Walter.
Later, Jenkins said Dae Young Lee, a merchant and real estate developer, was involved in that $500,000 bribe to Huizar. An email to Lee’s attorney was not immediately answered.
Richelle Rios, Huizar’s wife, was also named by prosecutors during Wednesday’s court hearing. Rios has been referred to as “Relative A-1” in court documents, while other unnamed co-conspirators are referred to as “Chairman E”, “Executive E” and “Business Person A,” among others.
Neither Lee or Rios have been charged and prosecutors say based on the current evidence they don’t intend to file criminal charges against them. But this is the first time prosecutors have provided the names of previously unidentified persons in the ongoing probe.
Rios’ attorney declined to comment on the in-court revelations.
“Business Person A” is a cabinet maker according to prosecutors, which piqued Walter’s interest.
“Is that the same cabinet maker in the Englander case?” asked Walter, who also oversaw Englander’s criminal case before the former city councilman pleaded guilty.
Jenkins said the federal government plans for a 15-20-day trial, with hundreds if not thousands of exhibits in evidence, including phone tap conversations with 40 to 50 witnesses, including those who have pleaded guilty in the probe.
Prosecutors say Huizar’s bribery scheme first came to light in 2013 during a trip to Las Vegas, when the developer called “Chairman E” gave Huizar $60,000 in casino chips.
Per the casino’s policy, Huizar was asked to sign a document and identify where he got the money because he was identified by the casino as an elected official. Huizar refused to sign the document, said a few words to “Chairman E” and left the casino on that occasion. Someone will testify to that exchange and many other conversations and text messages between Huizar and others in the probe, Jenkins said.
Walter asked prosecutors why it was illegal for a councilman to have professional relationships with developers, contractors and others who may want to develop in his district. The prosecution replied the answer will come from testimony by the co-conspirators.
Walter set a tentative trial date for Sept. 29 but said that’s only a placeholder at this point because Huizar fired his attorney this week and retained two federal public defenders. To that, Walter said he had serious questions about whether Huizar qualifies for a taxpayer-funded defense and asked for a detailed accounting of his finances.
Huizar was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, immigrated to LA at age 3 and became a U.S. citizen while in college. He received his law degree from UCLA School of Law and was the first Mexican immigrant to sit on the City Council when he was elected in 2007.
He did not comment as he exited the courthouse and was picked up in a gray car, waving meekly to his public defenders.