Ex-LA councilman Huizar faces 13 years for development-centered corruption

Huizar admitted to pay-to-play scheme for developers in exchange for $1.5M in bribes

Ex-LA Councilman Huizar Faces 13 Years in Development Scheme

A photo illustration of former Los Angeles councilman José Huizar (Getty)

Federal prosecutors want more than a decade in the slammer for former L.A. councilman José Huizar, who admitted to leading a pay-to-play corruption scheme tied to real estate developers.

Prosecutors urged a 13-year prison term and more than $1.3 million in fines and restitution for the disgraced councilman, leader of the so-called CD-14 Enterprise, City News Service reported via the Los Angeles Daily News.

Huizar pleaded guilty early this year for using his office to give favorable treatment to developers in exchange for at least $1.5 million in bribes — in the form of cash, hotel stays, gambling chips, luxury trips, prostitutes and favorable loans — while cheating on his taxes for seven years.

He is scheduled for a Jan. 26 sentencing hearing, although he requested a month’s continuance.

Huizar, 55, of Boyle Heights, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and one count of tax evasion.

In a sentencing memo obtained by the publication, prosecutors described Huizar as a “powerful career politician” who, instead of upholding his oath of public office, persistently “violated that oath and duty, choosing instead to place his own lust for money and power above the rights and interests of the people he was elected to serve.”

“Through an astoundingly brazen and long-running RICO conspiracy that defendant led, he corrupted himself and other powerful developers and city officials at the public’s expense,” prosecutors wrote.

In his plea agreement, Huizar admitted to running the CD-14 Enterprise, which operated as a pay-to-play scheme in which the councilman, assisted by others, unlawfully employed his office to give favorable treatment to developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit financial benefits.

“If anyone dared rebuff his call to pay bribes, he punished them and their city projects, threatening developers with indefinitely delayed projects and financial peril,” the sentencing memo said.

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Huizar also admitted to accepting a $600,000 bribe in the form of collateral from a China-based billionaire real estate developer to secretly settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit against the councilman by a former staffer.

Huizar “covered his tracks with layers of concealment, including by shamelessly exploiting his elderly mother, brother, and wife to launder his illicit proceeds,” according to federal prosecutors.

“Finally, when defendant felt the walls of the instant federal investigation closing in on him, he made the calculated decision to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses and lying to government prosecutors and agents,” they said.

In return for Huizar pleading guilty to the two felony counts, prosecutors agreed to seek no more than 13 years in prison for Huizar, who also agreed to forfeit $129,000 in cash that police found during a search of his home in November 2018.

Two developers tied to the Huizar scheme were found guilty in two separate jury trials last year.

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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. It received a $4 million penalty and five years probation.

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. He was sentenced to six years in federal prison.

— Dana Bartholomew