Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar arrested in corruption probe

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City Councilman Jose Huizar was accused Tuesday of accepting more than $1.5 million in bribes and other benefits to approve or stall large building projects and shape the Los Angeles development landscape, prosecutors said.

Huizar, 51, was taken into custody at his Boyle Heights home, officials said. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison on allegations that he masterminded a “pay-to-play” scheme involving real estate developers.

“Mr. Huizar was busy enjoying the fruits of his alleged corruption while his criminal enterprise sold the city to the highest bidder behind the backs of taxpayers,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, in a statement Tuesday.

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The mayor and other city leaders have been calling for Huizar to resign since his former special assistant agreed to plead guilty in the bribery scheme. The city council president pledged Tuesday to begin the process to remove Huizar, who has represented a district that encompasses downtown and the eastern part of Los Angeles since 2005, from office.

Prosecutors charged Huizar with one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Authorities allege the councilman and his associates violated multiple laws, including bribery, honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering.

The U.S. attorney scheduled a late-morning press conference to discuss the arrest.

“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree, allegedly soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from multiple sources over many years.”

There was no immediate response to an email seeking comment that was sent to Huizar’s communications director. The name of his attorney was not immediately available.

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Last month, former Huizar aide George Esparza, 33, agreed to plead to a count of racketeering conspiracy, which could carry a maximum 20-year prison term, according to prosecutors.

At the time, City Council President Nury Martinez called for Huizar to immediately step down and was joined by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said he was sickened by the corruption allegations.

Esparza, who left his city job in 2018, acknowledged in his plea agreement that from 2013 to 2018, he and a person identified in documents as “Councilmember A” were involved in a scheme to sell influence to several developers, including the billionaire head of a Chinese company who wanted to build a 77-story downtown skyscraper.

Huizar chaired the City Council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee until 2018, when he was stripped of that and other assignments following FBI raids on his home — where federal agents found $129,000 in cash in a closet — and offices.

Esparza was the fourth person to agree to plead guilty in the LA corruption probe. The others include a real estate developer, political fundraiser and a former councilman, Mitchell Englander.

Englander is accused of obstructing an investigation into tens of thousands of dollars in cash, female escort services and other perks.

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