Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar arrested in connection with federal bribery, corruption probe

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020
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Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested and taken into federal custody on Tuesday in connection with a nearly two-year federal bribery and corruption probe at City Hall.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested and taken into federal custody on Tuesday, making him the fifth person to be charged in an ongoing federal investigation into bribery and corruption at City Hall.

Huizar, 51, has served on the council since 2005 and is now facing a racketeering charge that alleges he used his position to leverage bribes and "other financial benefits," according to the U.S. District Attorney. He is suspected of conspiring to accept roughly $1.5 million in bribes from developers in exchange for his support in certain real estate projects in the city.

He made an appearance in federal court on Tuesday by video conference and was ordered by a judge to be released on $100,000 bond.

The single count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, could land the Democratic politician up to 20 years in federal prison.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller says agents arrested Councilman Jose Huizar without incident early Tuesday at his Boyle Heights home. The mayor and other city leaders have been calling for Huizar to resign since his former special assistant agreed to plead guilty in a $1 million bribery scheme involving real estate developers.

"While today's announcement on the arrest of Councilmember Huizar is not unexpected, the horrendous and disgusting allegations leveled against him and others have painted a dark cloud over our City government for a long time now," said a statement issued by Council President Nury Martinez shortly after this arrest. The council later voted unanimously to suspend him from office in light of the charges.

Officials said the investigation uncovered a massive criminal enterprise that included bribes, fraud extortion and money laundering. The complaint alleged that while he chaired the City Council's powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, Huizar decided which projects lived and which died, allegedly accepting money from developers. One of the projects was a 77-story building.

"The amount of alleged bribes is also staggering. In one scheme alone, one developer provided $500,000 in cash in brown paper bags," said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna during a press conference Tuesday.

In 2018, Huizar was stripped of council assignments after federal agents served a search warrant at Huizar's home in Boyle Heights. During the search of his home, agents discovered and seized nearly $130,000 in cash that was stashed in his closet.

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.

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.

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.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.