Jose Huizar, an elected member of the Los Angeles City Council, was arrested Tuesday on federal racketeering charges that allege he accepted bribes to help real estate developers secure approval for their projects – including one bribe facilitated by a development consultant in the Valley, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
Huizar is charged with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO Act. He allegedly violated laws against bribery, honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering in a wide-ranging scheme.
Last month, real estate development consultant George Chiang of Granada Hills agreed to plead guilty to a federal racketeering offense for participating in a “pay-to-play” scheme involving bribery with the L.A. City Council. At the time, however, officials didn’t identify which member of the council was involved. With the arrest of Huizar, the Justice Department spelled out the connection between Huizar and Chiang.
The 116-page affidavit charging Huizar alleges he operated a “CD-14 Enterprise,” named for his district, along with co-conspirators, including a former deputy mayor; George Esparza, Huizar’s former special assistant; and consultant Chiang.
“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement. “Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree, allegedly soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from multiple sources over many years. Using the power of his office to approve or stall large building projects, Huizar worked through a web of other corrupt city officials, lobbyists, consultants and developers to line his pockets and maintain his hold on Council District 14, which he turned into a money-making criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles.”
The affidavit outlines three major bribery schemes orchestrated by Huizar, whose district covers part of downtown Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. The first involved “Chairman E,” an unnamed Chinese billionaire who paid for Huizar to take at least a dozen trips to Las Vegas and in total provided about $800,000 in bribes. A second scheme involved a developer paying Huizar to resolve a lawsuit by organized labor against a development project. A third involved another Chinese developer seeking to build a mixed-use project in Huizar’s district.
Valley resident Chiang has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the RICO statute. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Also, the Justice Department announced that former L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, whose district covered the West Valley, is scheduled to plead 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 one of the people involved in the Huizar schemes.