Former LA city councilman José Huizar to plead guilty to bribery and tax evasion

Politician admits to accepting cash, hotel stays, loans from developers

Former L.A. city councilman José Huizar has agreed to plead guilty in a widespread bribery case that rattled city government and embroiled a number of real estate developers.

Huizar admitted to extorting at least $1.5 million in bribes — in the form of cash, hotel stays, gambling chips and favorable loans — from developers and evading taxes over the course of seven years, according to a plea agreement filed with the U.S. District Court on Thursday. Huizar also agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion charges.

“I am pleading guilty because I am guilty of the charges,” Huizar wrote in a signed document attached to the plea agreement.

Federal prosecutors recommended that Huizar be sentenced to no more than 13 years in prison, though he faces up to 26 years. Also, the former councilman will be ordered to pay about $1.85 million in restitution at the time of sentencing.

Huizar “demanded, solicited, accepted and agreed to accept from developers … financial benefits” from 2013 to 2020, according to the agreement. These benefits included meals, casino gambling chips in Las Vegas, prostitution and escort services, alcohol, cash and private jet trips.

In exchange, Huizar would use his power as a councilman to vote in a way that would benefit certain projects and take action to either speed up or delay approvals for certain developments. During his time on the L.A. City Council, he served on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which oversees major commercial and residential developments.

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Huizar’s plea comes after two developers were found guilty in two separate jury trials last year.

In June, David Lee (also known as Dae Yong Lee) and 940 Hill, a limited liability company run by Lee, was found guilty of giving Huizar $500,000 in exchange for help in resolving a labor issue at a Downtown L.A. development project.

Last month, Chinese real estate development firm Shen Zhen New World I LLC was found guilty of paying Huizar $1 million in exchange for obtaining city approval to build a 77-story hotel project.

The head of Shen Zhen New World, Wei Huang, traveled with Huizar to Las Vegas casinos on a number of occasions. On 19 different trips, Huizar accepted $10,000 in casino gambling chips from Huang each time, according to the agreement. Huang then asked Huizar for help in hiring a consultant on Huang’s hotel project.

Huizar also admitted to asking for political contributions from a number of developers, including Carmel Partners, a development firm that agreed to a $1 million fine in connection with the scandal. Carmel admitted to contributing $75,000 to Huizar’s political action committee while it was seeking city approval for a Downtown project.