‘Mr. Huizar was busy enjoying the fruits of his alleged corruption while his criminal enterprise sold the city to the highest bidder behind the backs of taxpayers.’ ~FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director Paul Delacourt
On Tuesday, FBI Agents arrested Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar at his Boyle Heights home and charged with taking more than $1.5 million in bribes in a “pay to play” scheme to approve or halt buildings within the city.
Councilman Huizar arrested on one count of violating the RICO Act
In an FBI operation known as “Operation Casino Loyale,” federal agents found that Councilman Huizar received money and favors from real estate developers, most of whom were from mainland China. Among the benefits Huizar is alleged to have received are trips to Las Vegas, campaign contributions, luxury hotel stays, and $600,000 to pay off a sexual harassment lawsuit. Of the $1.5 million that Huizar reportedly had taken, over $800,000 came from Chinese billionaire Wei Huang, hoping to build the tallest building west of the Mississippi. On Tuesday, during Huizar’s arrest, $129,000 in cash was found hidden inside Huizar’s home.
As Councilman Huizar had allegedly attempted to hide the $1.5 million from government officials and took bribes, as well as other allegations including fraud and making false statements on a loan, he was additionally charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Huizar, who has represented his south-southeast LA district since 2005, faces up to 20 years in a federal prison.
“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna. “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. He decided which projects lived and which projects died.”
The FBI also released a statement on Tuesday.
“Mr. Huizar was busy enjoying the fruits of his alleged corruption while his criminal enterprise sold the city to the highest bidder behind the backs of taxpayers,” said FBI Los Angeles field office Assistant Director Paul Delacourt.
Others charged, Huizar in the process of losing Council seat
Huizar has been under heavy scrutiny for many months due to the allegations. Others have been caught and charged with corruption under the FBI operation, including former LA Councilman Mitch Englander and Huizar’s former aide George Esparza. Englander was indicted in March on obstruction and witness tampering charges. In May, Esparza agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge.
After Garza’s guilty plea in May, both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez called for Huizar’s resignation. On Tuesday, after Huizar’s arrest, Martinez switched gears and announced that Huizar is now in the process of being removed from office.
Please see my statement on the arrest of Jose Huizar. pic.twitter.com/zrkYNwAPwk
— Nury Martinez (@CD6Nury) June 23, 2020
“You hate that it took this long to charge him and get him out, but it does make you happy to see that the system hasn’t completely stopped working,” said Boyle Heights resident Ana Cardenas, who lives two blocks away from Huizar’s house. “He broke trust with this community. Boyle Heights is a close Mexican-American community, and we put our trust in him for 15 years. While he did fight for us on the Council and helped us, it in no way excuses him from this.”
“It makes you feel devastated that you even voted for him in the first place.”
Councilman Huizar’s trial date has yet to be announced but it is expected that it will start later this year should he plead not guilty.