FBI raid, lawsuits, spell trouble for Councilman Jose Huizar, who holds sway over LA development

Lawmaker chairs Council's influential Planning and Land Use Committee

Jose Huizar and Downtown Los Angeles
Jose Huizar and Downtown Los Angeles

Early Wednesday morning, FBI agents simultaneously raided Councilmember Jose Huizar’s office Downtown and his home in Boyle Heights, gathering documents and electronic records in relation to a yet-undisclosed investigation.

The raid follows weeks of tumult for Huizar over back-to-back lawsuits by former staffers, and cast further doubt over the political stability of a lawmaker with more sway over real estate development than perhaps any of his colleagues on the City Council.

Huizar is chairperson of the influential Planning and Land Use Committee, the City Council’s main body for guiding development around the city. He has generally supported development in his own district, as well as around the city. Like other councilmembers, he’s taken campaign donations from developers working Downtown, which opponents say is evidence he’s in the pocket of real estate interests.

He’s pushed heavily for tax incentives and other subsidies for hotel developers and is the architect of the Bringing Back Broadway campaign, which is intended to boost investment and real estate development along the Broadway corridor.

Stephen Kaufman, an attorney for Huizar, declined to address the raids. “We are in the process of assessing the matter and have no further comment at this time,” Kaufman said.

The FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office on Wednesday also declined to discuss the raid, saying only that no arrests were planned, and that the affidavit in support of the search warrant had been sealed by the court.

Agents were seen leaving Huizar’s Boyle Heights home with paper bags, cardboard boxes, and other containers. One agent walked out of his home with what appeared to be a thumb drive in a plastic bag, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In recent weeks, federal agents reached out to attorney Terrence Jones, who is representing two former aides to Huizar, who each filed lawsuits against him in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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In one suit, former staffer Mayra Alvarez alleged that Huizar instructed her to doctor calendars in 2015 and 2016 to hide meetings he held with developers who later donated to his campaign.

Huizar wanted to cover up meetings “particularly when their particular issue or project was soon to be considered by the City Council or the Planning and Land Use Management Committee,” the suit alleges. “Those meetings were, of course, often followed close in time by donations to Huizar’s campaign coffers.”

Former aide Pauline Medina filed the other suit. She alleges that Huizar inappropriately instructed her to raise money on city time for his alma mater, Salesian High School.

Huizar called Alvarez’s suit “absolute nonsense” and Medina’s part of a “coordinated political attack,” according to the Los Angeles Times. He has not yet filed a legal response to the complaints, according to Jones, his attorney.

In 2017, the Coalition to Preserve LA named Huizar and a number of other councilmembers in an investigation into real estate“pay to play” schemes. The group found that developers frequently donated to Huizar’s city council campaign as their projects moved through the City Council.

The report said Huizar “failed for several months to provide his meeting calendar” for the report, in violation of the California Public Records Act.

Huizar has represented the 14th District — which stretches from Downtown Los Angeles to Boyle Heights and up to Eagle Rock — since 2005, and will be term-limited in two years. He is actively working to elect his wife Richelle Huizar to succeed him. That could be relevant to the raid as well. Alvarez alleged in her suit that Huizar illegally instructed her to work on his wife’s campaign.