The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment on L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, who allegedly accepted more than $1 million in bribes.
Federal officials believe Huizar “led a criminal enterprise where he used his powerful position at City Hall to enrich himself and his close associates” by accepting at least $1.5 million in bribes to accelerate building developments in the city.
More than $800,000 of the money was allegedly paid by a Chinese billionaire, who is identified as Chairman E, and owns a hotel in Huizar’s district. The Chinese businessperson allegedly gave Huizar $600,000 in collateral to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit that was filed against Huizar by a former staff member.
Huizar also allegedly used family members to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars, and instructed an assistant to falsify statements in a bank loan.
— US Attorney L.A. (@USAO_LosAngeles) June 23, 2020
The full set of charges against Huizar include conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, 12 counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of honest services mail fraud, four counts of traveling interstate in aid of racketeering, six counts of bribery, five counts of money laundering, one count of structuring cash deposits to conceal bribes, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement and one count of tax evasion.
The RICO conspiracy charges, honest services fraud and money laundering charges can each constitute up to 20 years in federal prison. Huizar also faces a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison on a charge of making false statements to a financial institution. The bribery charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The charges of tax evasion, structuring, making false statements to law enforcement, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering have a five-year maximum prison sentence.
In November 2018, Huizar’s Boyle Heights home was raided by the FBI, although no charges were filed against him at that time.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office Los Angeles said that in the 2018 raid, approximately $129,000 in cash was seized from Huizar’s home.
He continued to serve and vote on the council until early March of 2020, when City Council President Nury Martinez asked Huizar to no longer participate in its meetings.
On June 23, Huizar was arrested by the FBI on the federal racketeering charge and has since had additional charges added.
“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree, allegedly soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from multiple sources over many years.”
As part of the investigation, former L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander recently pleaded guilty on corruption charges, after accepting money and gifts from businesspeople. Englander vacated his seat in 2018 with two years remaining in his term.
A total of five people have been charged in the FBI investigation, including former deputy mayor George Esparza, Huizar’s former special assistant and real estate development consultant George Chiang.