A federal grand jury on July 30 returned a 34-count indictment against Jose Huizar, an elected member of the Los Angeles City Council, on charges that he led a criminal enterprise where he used his powerful position at City Hall to enrich himself and his close associates, and unlawfully gave favorable treatment to developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit financial benefits.
The indictment incorporates the allegations made in last month’s criminal complaint that charged Huizar, 51, of Boyle Heights, with one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The indictment specifically alleges 402 overt acts that Huizar and his co-conspirators committed to further their criminal enterprise, including bribery, honest services fraud, and money laundering.
In addition to the RICO conspiracy charge, the indictment charges Huizar with the following criminal charges: 12 counts of honest services wire fraud; two counts of honest services mail fraud; four counts of traveling interstate in aid of racketeering; six counts of bribery; five counts of money laundering; one count of structuring cash deposits to conceal bribes; one count of making a false statement to a financial institution; one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement; and one count of tax evasion.
Huizar is expected to appear via videoconference for his arraignment, which is scheduled for Aug. 3 in U.S. District Court.
Huizar has represented Council District 14 (CD-14), which includes downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, including Little Tokyo and the Arts District, since 2005. For several years he was chair of the city’s influential Planning and Land Use Management Committee, a position he lost after the FBI executed search warrants at his city offices and personal residence in November 2018.
During the search of his home, agents seized approximately $129,000 cash that was stashed in Huizar’s closet and which, according to the indictment, he received from a Chinese billionaire and another businessperson seeking favors from him.
The indictment alleges that Huizar operated the “CD-14 Enterprise,” along with co-conspirator members, including “Individual 1,” a former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and former deputy mayor; George Esparza, Huizar’s former special assistant; and real estate development consultant George Chiang. Members and associates of the criminal enterprise referred to Huizar as their “boss,” operated as a criminal organization, and worked together for common purposes, the indictment alleges.
The CD-14 Enterprise allegedly had several objectives, including enriching its members and associates through means that included bribery, extortion, and honest services fraud; advancing its political goals and maintaining its control and authority; concealing the enterprise’s financial activities; and protecting the enterprise by concealing its activities and shielding the enterprise from detection by law enforcement, the city, and the public.
Among the multitude of corruption allegations, the indictment alleges that Huizar illegally accepted more than $800,000 in benefits from Chairman E, a Chinese billionaire who runs a multinational development firm and who owns a hotel in Huizar’s district. Chairman E provided $600,000 in collateral to fund a settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Huizar by a former CD-14 staffer, allegations that threatened his 2015 re-election campaign, according to the indictment.
The indictment outlines Huizar’s concealment of illicit benefits, including by instructing his special assistant on how to avoid bank reporting requirements, using his family members to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, making false statements on a bank loan application and failing to report his illicit benefits on tax returns and ethics disclosure forms. Huizar allegedly engaged in obstructionist conduct, including attempting to influence other witnesses and lying to federal prosecutors and the FBI.
In total, Huizar allegedly agreed to accept at least $1.5 million in illicit financial benefits.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The charges of RICO conspiracy, honest services fraud, and money laundering each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The charge of making false statements to a financial institution has a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment. The bribery charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The charges of tax evasion, structuring, making false statements to law enforcement, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering have a five-year maximum prison sentence.
Huizar is the fifth person to be charged in the ongoing corruption investigation being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The other four defendants have pleaded guilty. Esparza, Chiang, and Justin Jangwoo Kim, a Huizar fundraiser who admitted to facilitating bribes, are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter in February 2021. Esparza, Chiang, and Kim are cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Former Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitchell Englander pleaded guilty on July 7 to charges of scheming to falsify material facts related to trips he took to Las Vegas and Palm Springs that were funded by a businessperson. Englander’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7, also before Judge Walter.
The cases against Huizar and his associates in the CD-14 Enterprise are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack E. Jenkins, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Veronica Dragalin and Melissa Mills, also of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.
Any member of the public who has information related to this or any other public corruption matter in the City of Los Angeles is encouraged to send information to the FBI’s email tip line at [email protected] or to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565.