“Rampant corruption at City Hall”: Feds charge Jose Huizar with taking bribes from developers

Once powerful politician allegedly operated “criminal enterprise,” and accepted $1.5M in illicit benefits from army of developers, authorities said

Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar (Credit: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar (Credit: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

UPDATED, June 25, 3:24 p.m.: The FBI arrested Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar Tuesday on a federal racketeering charge, culminating a near two-year probe into the lawmaker’s cozy relationship with real estate developers. Authorities said the investigation into Huizar had “pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office made the announcement, alleging Huizar — who once led the powerful Planning and Land Use Management committee — operated a “criminal enterprise,” and accepted at least $1.5 million in illicit benefits from an army of developers to help them get their projects approved. Many of those developers, including Shenzhen Hazens, are based in China.

“Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree,” said U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Nick Hanna.

Huizar also allegedly “used the power of his office to approve or stall large building projects,” all part of his “money-making criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles,” Hanna said in a news release.

Huizar was taken into custody at his home without incident, authorities said, and was expected to make his initial appearance Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown L.A.

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The FBI’s probe of Huizar became public in November 2018, when agents raided his City Council office and home.

In early 2019, a search warrant related to the investigation became public, showing that federal agents had permission to seize documents from two real estate firms and several city officials. Those officials included Councilman Curren Price and a senior aide to Council President Herb Wesson. They have not been charged with any wrongdoing.

In March, federal prosecutors began a flurry of indictments, starting with former City Council member Mitchell Englander, charging him in connection with accepting bribes from real estate developers.

Subsequent announcements revealed plea deals with Englander, real estate appraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim, real estate development consultant George Chiang and former Huizar staffer George Esparza, all linked to Huizar as the unnamed alleged point person of corruption and mastermind.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that federal agents had permission to seize documents from Council President Herb Wesson.