Former L.A. City Councilmember José Huizar has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, a little more than four years after the FBI raided his home and two of his offices.
A week after the November 2018 FBI raid, then-president of the City Council Herb Wesson removed Huizar from the committees on which he served, where he had helped to control city policy for planning, economic development, poverty and homelessness, and election rules and state legislation.
That’s a lot of policy to sell. According to the plea agreement, Huizar presented motions and resolutions in city committees to benefit certain projects, voted on those projects in committees and in the City Council, took action (or didn’t) in the Planning and Land Use Committee to speed up or delay projects, pressured city officials regarding approvals and permits, improperly negotiated with labor unions, manipulated scheduling and used city resolutions to enhance the reputations of certain businesspersons.
What did Huizar get in exchange for all these services? According to prosecutors, “Huizar and other city officials demanded and accepted cash bribes, casino gambling chips, prostitution and escort services, political contributions, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury hotels and casinos, expensive meals, tickets to concerts and sporting events, and other benefits.” There was also a $600,000 payment to help settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit against Huizar by a former staff member.
That’s what we know. Will we find out more about public corruption in Los Angeles? Is this as high as it goes?
There’s nothing in Huizar’s plea agreement, which still has to be approved by a judge, about cooperating in the investigation or testifying against anybody else.
Others, however, are cooperating. The U.S. Department of Justice noted in a press release that “the CD-14 Enterprise” included lobbyists, consultants and “other city officials and staffers, who sought to personally enrich themselves and their families and associates in exchange for official acts.”
The enterprise’s members and associates included George Chiang, a real estate development consultant; political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim; lobbyist Morrie Goldman; and Huizar’s former special assistant, George Esparza. “Each of these individuals has pleaded guilty in this case, is cooperating with the government’s investigation, and awaits sentencing,” prosecutors said.
On the opposite side of the bribery deals, prosecutors have obtained convictions of individuals and companies that were paying “the CD-14 Enterprise” for influence and policy outcomes. In June 2022, real estate developer Dae Yong Lee, also known as David Lee, was convicted along with one of his companies of giving $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant, Esparza. Lee is set to be sentenced on May 5.
In November, the downtown real estate company Shen Zhen New World I LLC was convicted for the actions of its now-fugitive owner, Wei Huang, who bribed Huizar with about $1 million in cash and prizes. Sentencing of the company is scheduled for May 12. Huang is believed to be somewhere in China.
Next up is the February 21 trial of former Los Angeles deputy mayor Raymond She Wah Chan, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, bribery, honest services fraud (surprisingly, it’s illegal to be dishonest in government) and lying to federal agents. Chan is accused of being a member of “the CD-14 Enterprise.”
What we still don’t know is whether any of these characters are providing information about other corrupt enterprises or individuals in L.A. government.
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A separate cast of characters has been busy pleading guilty to corruption charges in an investigation into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the L.A. City Attorney’s office under Mike Feuer. Those offices were raided by the FBI in July 2019. The investigation has uncovered multi-million-dollar kickbacks, insider contracts, and collusion in a lawsuit over the LADWP’s billing software debacle.
Meanwhile, suspended City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas goes on trial on federal corruption charges in March, but in December, the City Council voted to give him his salary and back pay, on the recommendation of outgoing City Attorney Mike Feuer.
The U.S. Department of Justice invites tips from the public about public corruption in Los Angeles. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 477-6565. Be patient. As you can see, they’re swamped.
Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley