“I’ve lost everything.” Former LA Councilman Jose Huizar asks for leniency in corruption case

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 13: Los Angeles City Council Member Jose Huizar before the Los Angeles City Council votes on imposing a new development fee to raise money for affordable housing at the LA City Council Chambers on December 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA.  (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

“I’ve lost everything.” Former LA Councilman Jose Huizar asks for leniency in corruption case

LA politics

Dakota Smith
David Zahniser

January 26, 2024

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, awaiting sentencing in a major criminal case, asked a judge for leniency on Thursday.

he has, “I have lost everything.”

In a letter to U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter, Huizar apologized to his family, his former constituents and the city. He said he has paid a huge price by losing his reputation and his ability to provide for his family, damaging the future of his children. their mental health.

“My entire life has been turned upside down and I regret ever deviating from the values ​​that brought me into public service in the first place,” he wrote. “I have caused unexpected collateral damage to people and institutions I care about.”

The five-page letter was filed in court a day before Huizar’s sentencing in a federal case that focuses on various types of bribes offered by real estate developers with projects in downtown Huizar. In the letter, parts of which have been redacted, Huizar said his own weakness had changed his life forever.

Shiny things were dangling in front of me and I couldn’t resist the temptation, wrote Huizar, who pleaded guilty last year to extortion and tax evasion. The money, the fancy dinners, luxury flights. It was there for the taking and I wasn’t strong enough to say no.

Huizar has asked for no more than nine years in prison. Federal prosecutors are seeking a 13-year sentence, arguing that a stiff sentence will serve as a deterrent against future government corruption.

Prosecutors said Huizar monetized his government position for years, taking in more than $1.5 million in cash bribes, gambling chips, luxury items.

hotels,

hotel stays, political contributions, prostitutes

Services

expensive meals and other financial benefits from developers with projects in his neighborhood.

“If anyone dared to reject his call to pay bribes, he punished them and their city projects, threatening developers with indefinitely postponed projects and financial peril,” they wrote.

The U.S. Department of Justice also wants Huizar, who served on the council from 2005 to 2020, to repay more than $1 million to the city of Los Angeles.

Friday’s conviction concludes a far-reaching corruption investigation

sample

That started in 2015, the year FBI agents received a tip about Huizar’s gambling activities in a luxury casino in Las Vegas. Years later, he and a number of City Hall figures were largely involved

in

approving residential towers or high-rise hotels were arrested and eventually convicted of various crimes

.

Councilman Mitchell Englander pleaded guilty in 2020 to giving false information to investigators after FBI agents inquired about his own 2017 trip to Vegas, during which

one true

he received cash in an envelope in a casino bathroom. George Esparza, a former assistant to Huizar who transported liquor boxes full of cash, is awaiting sentencing on racketeering charges.

A developer, a former lobbyist, a land use consultant, a China-based real estate company and even Huizar’s older brother, Salvador Huizar, have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury.

Still to come is the case of former deputy mayor Raymond Chan, who faces charges of bribery, extortion and wire fraud. That case ended in a mistrial last year after Chan’s attorney suffered a medical emergency that prevented him from continuing to represent him in court.

One figure in the corruption investigation may never face a jury. Chinese billionaire developer Wei Huang, who helped Huizar raise $600,000 to pay off a former assistant who accused him of sexual harassment, is on the run and is considered a fugitive, according to the Justice Department.

Huizar, for years

acted as head of

led the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which served as a critical gatekeeper for large-scale development projects in the city.

In his plea agreement, entered last year, Huizar admitted to participating in a criminal enterprise that involved lobbyists, real estate consultants and others in a pay-to-play scheme.

S

.

Huizar repeatedly solicited bribes, in some cases enriching himself personally, and in others collecting campaign donations from downtown developers eager to get city approval for their projects or seeking other government action, according to his plea deal.

A proposed project, later abandoned, was a 77-story hotel tower planned for Figueroa Street. Another example was a 20-story residential building proposed for Olympic Boulevard. A third was a 35-story tower, now under construction, in the Arts District. A fourth was planned across from the LA Live entertainment complex.

Huizar, 55, was born in a rural village in Mexico just a few years before his family immigrated to the US. His parents worked long hours at menial jobs while raising children, according to relatives.

and care

their children. He excelled in school, graduating from a series of top schools: UC Berkeley, then Princeton University, and finally UCLA School of Law.

In 2001, Huizar was elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District board. Four years later, he joined the council, representing neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Eagle Rock. He won a third and final term in 2015, handily defeating former County Supervisor Gloria Molina, a veteran Eastside politician.

In their request for leniency, Huizar’s defense team pointed out that he is a first-time offender and the father of school-aged children.

They pointed out that Huizar’s work contributes to what they called the “DTLA Renaissance,” the pre-COVID

pandemic

real estate boom that brought foreign investment and glamorous towers to downtown. They argued that Huizar’s actions, while they damaged public trust, were not “intentionally malicious.”

Huizar’s friends and relatives have also tried to highlight his good deeds.

In a letter to the judge, former school board President Monica Garcia called Huizar a “pioneering” board member who played a crucial role in the effort to build dozens of new campuses. In another, Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, said Huizar has shown humility and remorse.

“It’s clear he is much more than the worst thing he ever did,” Boyle wrote.

In yet another letter, Huizar’s elderly mother, Isidra Huizar, begged the judge to show mercy, saying her son routinely helps her with her dentist, her heart doctor, her optometrist, her prescriptions and other medical needs.

“I don’t even want to think about life without him,” she wrote. “I beg you with all my heart: do not take him from me. You do not understand how I would suffer without him.”

In another lawsuit, Huizar’s legal team said their client had dedicated himself to public service, “at great cost to himself and his family.” While on the council, Huizar developed personal relationships with numerous people, the kind that led to “the exchange of benefits and favors.”

“It was easy to blur lines, and so they did,” the lawyers wrote. “Indeed, this was not just true of Mr. Huizar, but was and almost certainly remains true of virtually all elected officials in LA and beyond.”

That claim drew a strong response from Council President Paul Krekorian, who voted to suspend Huizar on the day he was arrested in June 2020. Krekorian called the claim “complete nonsense” in an interview on Thursday.

“It’s actually shameful to try to equate these crimes with anything that would be considered normal at City Hall,” Krekorian said. “This is not normal. His behavior was an embarrassment to the city, a betrayal of the voters and a betrayal of all of us, his former colleagues. So to suggest this is ‘business as usual’ is complete nonsense.”

Federal prosecutors said in their written filing that Huizar violated his oath of office and duty to his constituents “time and time again.”

Huizar placed “his own desire for money and power above the rights and interests of the people he was elected to serve,” they said.

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