Carmel Partners lobbyist pleads guilty to brokering $150K Huizar bribe

Deal allowed developer to save millions on its DTLA mixed-use project by lowering the number of low-income housing units built

Jose Huizar (Credit: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Jose Huizar (Credit: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A lobbyist for Carmel Partners pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery in the massive pay-to-play scandal involving Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar.

According to Tuesday’s plea deal, Morris Goldman said he helped save Carmel millions of dollars on its Downtown mixed-use project by negotiating a $150,000 bribe the developer would pay Huizar in the form of political donations. Prosecutors said that allowed Carmel to reduce the amount of low-income housing units it would build, saving an estimated $14 million.

As the go-between for Carmel, Goldman brokered the money Huizar sought to shepherd the developer’s project through City Hall, according to prosecutors.

Goldman acknowledges that in September 2018, he negotiated the deal between Huizar and a Carmel executive in which the development company gave $50,000 toward a Huizar Political Action Committee. The PAC was created to raise money for Huizar’s wife, Richelle Huizar, to succeed him on the City Council.

In exchange, Huizar successfully navigated the opposition to Carmel’s 34-story project on Mateo Street in the Downtown L.A.’s Arts District. The project cleared the City Council and was approved.

Tuesday’s deal is the latest shoe to drop in a wide-ranging federal investigation in which a half-dozen people have pleaded guilty and four real estate development companies have been implicated. Huizar, the former chairman of the Council’s powerful Planning Land Use and Management committee, was indicted and faces 34 federal criminal charges. His trial is set for next June.

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At the time Carmel’s mixed-use project was being considered, opponents objected to its lack of affordable housing. In announcing the plea deal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that “reducing the project’s availability of low-income housing — despite its proximity to Skid Row — netted the company approximately $14 million in savings.”

In all, Goldman admitted through his actions, Carmel agreed to provide Huizar with $150,000 in political donations. About $75,000 of that was actually paid before the federal authorities raided Huizar’s home and office in November 2018, according to the government.

Carmel Partners is never explicitly named in the plea deal, though federal authorities’ repeated references to “Company M” clearly points to the San Francisco-based firm.

Carmel has at least a half-dozen projects in L.A. under construction including the Mateo Street site. Its point person for L.A. projects at City Council meetings — per a review of meeting audio recordings — is a company senior executive, Neils Cotter. He is on leave and his listed company phone number is disconnected. Cotter is not named in the complaint, and federal authorities have not cited any Carmel Partners executives by name.

A message left with a Carmel Partners spokesperson Tuesday was not immediately returned. The spokesperson previously emailed The Real Deal saying that the company intended to proceed with the Mateo Street project, which it said had widespread community support.