Jose Huizar was our rancho’s American dream. Now he will go to prison for thirteen years

LOS ANGELES CA JANUARY 26, 2024 – Former Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar enters the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on January 26, where he will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Jose Huizar was our rancho’s American dream. Now he will go to prison for thirteen years

California politics, LA politics

Gustavo Arellano

January 26, 2024

As he exited the federal courthouse elevator on the way to his sentencing hearing,

ex-Los Angeles councilman

Jose Huizar was relaxed enough to joke with his lawyers.

The former Los Angeles city councilman would soon find out how much prison time he would serve after pleading guilty to racketeering and tax evasion charges last year.

Walking down the hallway with black glasses and a blue suit and a brown bag in his hand


, he saw me. I’ve written columns trashing him


not only


disgrace his position, but for embarrassing Latinos. He could have frowned, shouted or just ignored me.

Instead, the Eastside politician offered me one


a greeting steeped in our rural roots in Mexico, reserved for those who command respect.

“What’s up brother?” He said smiling as we shook hands and walked to the courtroom together. I asked how he felt. He looked as mocking as Alfred E. Neuman as he shrugged his shoulders and held out his hands.

His public defenders, who looked young enough to have just graduated from law school, tried to chase him away, but he wanted to catch up.

‘I was in you


recently,” he said El Cargadero, the village in the mountains of Jerez, Zacatecas, where my mother was born, next to Huizar’s hometown of Los Morales.

At the end of October, Huizar traveled back to the


after U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter allowed him to “attend religious ceremonies.” [in Zacatecas] that are important to his Catholic faith.”

In Spanish, I asked if he had attended the October meeting. 24th feast day of the Archangel St. Raphael, patron saint of El Cargadero, marked with processions and celebrations that attract thousands of people from Jerez and the American diaspora. Huizar grinned again and entered the courtroom without saying anything else.

You’d think we were cousins ​​catching up


family party. In a way we were too.

His parents knew my parents. My older cousins ​​know his brothers. He and his family spent summers growing strawberries in the same Orange County fields as I did


and aunts. We proudly followed his rise from Boyle Heights to Berkeley, Princeton to UCLA Law, the LA Unified school board to City Hall. At family parties where we caught up on who had done well and who had done poorly, my cousins ​​told their children that they too could be like Huizar.

He wasn’t just the American dream. Hey what


American dream. He represented a high point for the people of Zacatecas, who numbered nearly half a million in Southern California.


There are thousands of them


who live primarily in Anaheim, the San Fernando Valley and the Eastside.

When Huizar was arrested in 2020, I not only shook my head in disgust, but also sighed in deep disappointment. Prosecutors alleged that Huizar monetized his government position for years by reaping more than $1.5 million in cash bribes, gambling chips, luxury hotel stays, political contributions, prostitute services, expensive meals and other financial benefits from developers with projects in his downtown. neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, our elders shouted conspiracy.

I almost took my father to the sentencing so he could see everyone from prison


. More than fifty people had written letters of support for Huizar, his mother, his children, childhood friends and people from Jerez. But few were present. Huizar would only answer for his crimes.

After prosecutors demanded 13 years in prison, and Huizar’s lawyers


at nine o’clock Walter spoke. Huizar was loved by his family and even by his voters.

the judge Walter

said, and his rags to riches story was commendable.


Walter is from the judge

sympathy quickly turned to anger. He castigated Huizar in a didactic monotone for “selling out his voters,” for an “unusually widespread and rampant pattern of misconduct” that “was in a league of his own,” for “showing little remorse” and for making people distrust public officials .

Huizar, 55, raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips as Walter allowed him to do so. He spoke only briefly to ‘reiterate’ the letter of apology he had submitted to the court the day before.

I nodded along as Walter continued. When Walter said, “It’s hard to understand why he decided to throw it all away,” any empathy I had for Huizar disappeared, despite our shared background.

Our parents bought houses, became American citizens, and raised children of my generation who became teachers, professors, white-collar professionals, or blue-collar entrepreneurs. Some of us are famous


Notable include cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist; Chicana novelist Helena Maria Viramontes; Maywood Councilman Heber Marquez; And


Jessica Alba, my third cousin when removed, and the descendant of civil rights pioneers in Pomona.

So much


became success stories without turning off the public. Why couldn’t Huizar?

Walter gave him the 13 years prosecutors requested, and also ordered him to pay nearly $444,000 in restitution to the city of Los Angeles and nearly $39,000 to the police department.

Internal Tax AuthoritiesIRS

. He must surrender to federal authorities on April 30.

Afterwards, reporters gathered outside the courtroom. He ignored them all except me. He gave me one


again, this time with a fist bump and a smile no less radiant than

the one

two hours earlier.

I asked again how he felt.

“You know I can’t talk, brother,” Huizar replied. “But when the time is right…” He trailed off as people surrounded him on the way to the elevator.

“Has the Santo Nio de Atocha listened to your prayers?” I responded with a reference to the patron saint of Zacatecas, an image Huizar posted on Instagram hours before federal agents arrested him at his Boyle Heights home.

His smile was incredulous this time, as if he couldn’t believe I was going there.

He entered an elevator with his legal team. Court security guards pushed my colleague Dakota Smith back into the hallway. Reporters and protesters fired questions and insults at him.

What a shame, though




to me.

“Qu le dices a los de Jerez? Is your mensaje one of our paisanos?”

I screamed.

What do you say to those from Jerez? What is your message to your fellow countrymen?

This time Huizar laughed. His smile grew so wide I thought it would hold open the doors that were closing as he drove toward the rest of his life.


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