Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, 14th District, was arrested on June 23 by the FBI on a federal racketeering charge alleging he led a criminal enterprise and accepted bribes and other financial benefits in exchange for support for development projects.
Federal prosecutors allege Huizar used his position as a government official to solicit and accept bribes that enriched himself and his associates. A criminal complaint charges Huizar with one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and alleges that he and his associates violated laws against bribery, honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering.
Huizar, 51, of Boyle Heights, was taken into custody on June 23 at his home and released later the same day on $100,000 bail. Huizar was not asked to enter a plea to the charge, which is normal at this point in a federal case, authorities said. A preliminary hearing is scheduled on July 14 and an arraignment is scheduled on July 20. The RICO conspiracy charge has a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The arrest came two years after FBI agents served search warrants at Huizar’s home and City Hall offices. The councilman has represented the 14th District, which includes portions of downtown Los Angeles and the eastside, since 2005.
Speculation about Huizar’s alleged criminal involvement grew during the past several months after others with ties to the councilman, including his former special assistant George Esparza, agreed to plead guilty to federal racketeering charges. Criminal complaints in those cases indicated a City Council member was involved, but Huizar was not named until the criminal complaint was unsealed on June 23.
Members of the Los Angeles City Council previously called for Huizar to step down, and voted 14-0 on June 23 to suspend him from the council. Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, recently introduced motions to establish a city office to investigate and enforce anti-corruption laws and reform how building projects are approved.
“Jose Huizar’s alleged crimes are stomach-turning. Instead of serving the best interests of our city, Huizar chose to enrich himself,” Ryu said. “This scheme is disgraceful, and I hope Huizar and anyone else involved faces swift justice. But that alone is not enough. This culture of corruption and pay-to-play politics has been allowed to fester in City Hall for far too long, and I’m sick and tired of putting forth ideas that are dismissed as going too far, too fast. How many more examples do we need until something changes? We need an inspector general with the power to oversee, investigate and subpoena council members, especially over land-use decisions. We need changes to our city charter to remove the levers of power that city council members can exploit for their own personal gain. These are just some of the reforms I have put forward, and it’s clear that they are far overdue.”
Federal authorities said as the former chair of the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, Huizar was in a position to support development projects. Huizar was removed as chair of the PLUM Committee after the FBI served search warrants at his home and office in November 2018. During the search of Huizar’s home, agents seized approximately $129,000 cash in a closet, authorities with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The 116-page affidavit alleges that Huizar operated the “CD-14 Enterprise,” along with co-conspirators including Esparza and real estate development consultant George Chiang. Members and associates of the criminal enterprise referred to Huizar as their “boss,” operated as a criminal organization and worked together for common purposes, the complaint alleges. Chiang has also agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering charge.
Authorities allege the CD-14 Enterprise was established in early 2013. The criminal complaint outlines a series of interactions between Huizar and his associates and an unnamed Chinese developer who allegedly paid $800,000 in exchange for support for a project. In a second scheme, a different developer allegedly agreed to pay a $500,000 cash bribe to secure Huizar’s help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of a major real estate project. A third scheme allegedly involved a different unnamed Chinese developer and included a $100,000 contribution to the campaign of a Huizar relative who was seeking to replace him on the City Council after he would be forced out because of term limits in 2020. Huizar’s wife briefly ran for the office but dropped out of the race shortly after the FBI raids in 2018.
The criminal complaint also alleges Huizar directly or indirectly accepted more than a dozen lavish trips to Las Vegas, as well as trips to Australia and China, paid for by developers.
“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said. “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. Using the power of his office to approve or stall large building projects, Huizar worked through a web of other corrupt city officials, lobbyists, consultants and developers to line his pockets and maintain his hold on Council District 14, which he turned into a money-making criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles.”
Anyone who has further information about the case, or any other public corruption, is encouraged to call the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310)477-6565, or email [email protected].