A longtime Los Angeles City Hall lobbyist and close associate of suspended Councilman Jose Huizar was charged Tuesday with acting as the middleman in a bribery scheme in which a developer client agreed to give $50,000 in political donations in exchange for Huizar’s support of the businessman’s Arts District project.
In a plea agreement also filed Tuesday, Morris Roland “Morrie” Goldman, 57, of Porter Ranch, agreed to plead guilty to the felony count of conspiring to commit bribery and honest services mail fraud and cooperate in the government’s ongoing investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to court documents, Goldman was a lobbyist for an unnamed company which had a pending development project in the city’s Arts District. Goldman 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.
Goldman’s attorney, Steve Meister, said 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 admits 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. 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 is now the sixth defendant to be charged as a result of “Operation Casino Loyale,” an FBI investigation into corruption at Los Angeles City Hall. Four defendants, including former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, 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 June 22.
The court documents did not name the relative seeking Huizar’s council seat. He was prevented from seeking re-election in 2020 due to term limits, and his wife Richelle Huizar announced in September 2018 that she was running to replace him as the representative for the 14th Council District.
Richelle Huizar withdrew from the race in November 2018, weeks after the FBI raided the Huizars’ home and two of her husband’s offices.
Goldman has agreed to surrender and make his first court appearance on Sept. 23. Once he pleads guilty to the conspiracy count, he will face up to five years in federal prison, prosecutors said.