In a stunning turn in the high-profile corruption saga that has gripped the City of Angels for many months, former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar has agreed to plead guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion, according to court documents filed Thursday, Jan. 19.
Huizar’s plea agreement — which maps out his links to a bribery and money-laundering scheme in which he was accused of taking more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for supporting a planned downtown hotel project — was signed Wednesday and filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday afternoon.
The document states that Huizar faces a sentence of up to 26 years behind bars once he pleads guilty, but he has agreed to a prison sentence of no less than nine years. A motions hearing in the case is on calendar for Friday morning, but that could be updated to allow for Huizar to enter his plea.
At his sentencing, Huizar will be ordered to pay restitution of about $1.85 million, the documents state.
Huizar early this month lost his bid for a severance from his co-defendant in their forthcoming trial on federal public corruption charges.
In that ruling, U.S. District Judge John Walter denied the motion for Huizar to be tried separately from former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan.
There was no word Thursday on whether Chan would also plead guilty.
Huizar faced a courtroom drama on Feb. 21, facing trial for federal bribery and fraud charges. His actions were allegedly intertwined with those of City Hall insider Chan, whose high-profile attorney Harland Braun announced that he would tell the jury Huizar was guilty and Chan was not guilty “by comparing and contrasting their conduct as criminal and noncriminal, respectively.”
Prosecutors said billionaire developer Wei Huang, who fled to China, was accused of giving Huizar $1.5 million, including $250,000 in casino chips and a loan Huizar never paid back.
Huizar was heading for a difficult day in court after Huang’s Chinese real estate company was convicted on Thursday, Nov. 10, of federal charges for bribing Huizar with vast amounts of cash and numerous gambling trips in exchange for his support to get approval for a towering downtown L.A. skyscraper that was never built.
Shen Zhen New World I, the company owned by fugitive developer Huang, faces millions of dollars in fines in its sentencing, which is expected in a Los Angeles federal court on Jan. 23.
A Los Angeles federal jury found Shen Zhen New World I guilty of eight counts including honest services wire fraud, interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.
Federal prosecutors have convicted nine defendants as a result of “Operation Casino Loyale,” a broad corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
A thick trial memo written by federal prosecutors recently unveiled dramatic new fireworks, alleging that Huizar was so entangled with Huang that he traveled with the billionaire Huang to Las Vegas 19 times.
Billionaire Huang planned to build a 77-story tower, the tallest building on the West Coast, on the site of the L.A. Grand Hotel downtown. Federal prosecutors said the company bribed Huizar to smooth the way.
Devastating testimony last fall by Huizar’s estranged wife, Richelle Rios, detailed her suspicion that her husband was involved in an extra-marital affair, and in August 2013 she had learned that Huizar was being sued by a former aide alleging sexual harassment. The woman sought between $600,000 and $1 million to settle with her ex-boss, Rios said.
Richelle Rios testified that because Huizar was about to run for his third and final four-year term on the Los Angeles City Council — and news of the harassment lawsuit could potentially torpedo his campaign — Huizar and his associates were worried.
Rios, who did not face charges, said she was called to a meeting with her husband, and then-Deputy Mayor Chan and billionaire Huang — known in Huizar’s circle as “Chairman Huang.”
The topic of the meeting: How Huang could “help in resolving the lawsuit,” Rios testified.
“They wanted to know if I was going to stay in the marriage and would I stand with (Huizar),” Rios, 53, told the jury.
She said she felt “humiliated, angry and devastated” about the situation, but agreed.
Huizar was able to privately resolve the suit, and was re-elected.
Los Angeles City Hall: Five things to watch for in 2023
Chinese company is found guilty of bribing ex-LA Councilman Jose Huizar
Accused of corruption, Jose Huizar loses bid to face jury without alleged sidekick
Feds say ex-Councilman Jose Huizar got a lifestyle of wealth from fugitive billionaire Wei Huang
Tearing the fabric of municipal trust: A guide to corruption cases in Los Angeles City Hall
City News Service contributed to this report.