Friday, October 30, 2020

Lobbyist Morrie Goldman pleads guilty in Los Angeles City Hall bribery case

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A longtime lobbyist and former Los Angeles City Hall official pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of conspiring with now- suspended Councilman Jose Huizar in a bribery scheme.

Morrie Goldman entered his guilty plea to a felony count of conspiring to commit bribery and honest services mail fraud in the government’s ongoing investigation of corruption at City Hall. Goldman faces up to five years in federal prison, with sentencing scheduled for Dec. 14, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Goldman, 57, of Porter Ranch, was a lobbyist for a company which had a pending development project in the city’s Arts District. He was one of several people who established two political action committees, one of which purportedly supported a variety of causes but actually was created to primarily benefit the City Council campaign of a relative of Huizar’s who was planning to run for his council seat, according to federal prosecutors.

If elected, the unnamed relative would help Huizar and his associates “maintain a political stronghold in the city,” court documents allege.

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Goldman’s attorney, Steve Meister, said previously that his client “allowed himself to become part of the orbit of a very corrupt man.”

“By cooperating with the government’s investigation, Morrie is reclaiming the moral ground he ceded to Jose Huizar, and my client will do everything he lawfully can, for as long as it takes, to make things right,” Meister said. “It’s a cautionary tale of how even for a person of integrity and a previously unblemished record, like Morrie Goldman, all of this can happen.”

In his plea agreement, Goldman admitted that in September 2018, he agreed with Huizar and an executive at the company that the developer would contribute $50,000 to a PAC established to support the relative’s political campaign. In exchange, Huizar would vote against a union appeal of the company’s project in the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which he chaired at the time.

Court documents also outline how Goldman secured commitments from the company to contribute to PACs, allegedly at Huizar’s request, prior to September 2018.

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Between November 2016 and March 2017, the company contributed a total of $50,000 to a PAC used to benefit Huizar’s political causes. In June 2018, Goldman secured a $25,000 contribution to the PAC designed to elect the relative, as well as a commitment for an additional $25,000 contribution.

The company’s project ultimately received significant benefits in the city approval process. For example, the City Council’s approval of the company’s request to reduce the project’s availability of low-income housing — despite its proximity to Skid Row — netted the company $14 million in savings, court papers state.

Out of the $150,000 in donations agreed to by the developer, $75,000 was actually paid, with the final payments being derailed by an FBI search of Huizar’s home and offices in November 2018, court papers show.

Goldman was the sixth defendant to be charged as a result of operation “Casino Loyale,” an FBI investigation into corruption at Los Angeles City Hall. Goldman is among five defendants, including former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, who have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

On Aug. 3, Huizar pleaded not guilty to charges in a 34-count racketeering indictment that alleges he led a criminal enterprise designed to enrich himself and his associates, give favorable treatment to developers involved in the payment of bribes, and elect his relative to preserve the enterprise’s power when his term expired at the end of this year. Huizar’s trial is scheduled for next June.

Before working as a lobbyist, Goldman served as chief of staff to former Los Angeles City Councilmen Hal Bernson and Mike Hernandez.

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