Former Councilman José Huizar gets 13 years in prison for accepting developer bribes

Huizar led “pay-to-play enterprise” — and punished developers that said no

Former LA City Councilman José Huizar Gets 13 Years in Prison Over Developer Bribes
United States Attorney for the Central District of California Martin Estrada, former Councilman José Huizar (Getty, Martin Estrada photo by Andrew Asch for The Real Deal)

José Huizar, who represented Los Angeles’ 14th District in the City Council for over 19 years, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for accepting bribes from real estate developers. 

It’s a moment of reckoning for the former L.A. councilman, who pleaded guilty a year ago to federal counts of racketeering and tax evasion, and marks the end to one of the most high-profile, wide-ranging corruption cases in modern L.A. city history. 

Huizar appeared in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in L.A. on Jan. 26 for a scheduled hearing, where the judge ordered Huizar face the maximum sentence. Huizar’s attorneys had been willing to settle for nine years, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Huizar led a pay-to-play enterprise, in which he exploited his government position to seek out at least $1.5 million in bribes, which includes cash, hotel stays, gambling chips, luxury trips, prostitutes and favorable loans.

“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 U.S. government wrote in a sentencing memorandum. 

A number of developers were implicated in the corruption scandal, though two — Dae Yong Lee and Downtown L.A.-based Shen Zhen New World — have been formally charged and found guilty. 

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Dae Yong Lee, also known as David Lee, and one of his limited liability companies, 940 Hill, were found guilty of handing out $500,000 in cash bribes to Huizar and George Esparza, one of Huizar’s former assistants. In exchange, the two helped resolve an appeal of Lee’s development project in Downtown L.A. 

Shen Zhen New World, run by Wei Huang, was found guilty in November 2022 of paying more than $1 million — in the form of casino gambling chips and luxury trip expenses — to Huizar. Huizar helped push the city to approve Shen Zhen New World’s plans to build a 77-story skyscraper. 

Lee was sentenced to six years in federal prison last May. The U.S. government considers Huang a fugitive and believes he is still in China. 

In 2021, Carmel Partners agreed to pay a $1 million fine in connection with Huizar’s scandal and admitted it contributed $75,000 to his political action committee to score approval for a tower project in Downtown L.A. 

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

Andrew Asch contributed reporting. 

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