Los Angeles councilman faces 34 federal charges in alleged bribery scheme
A federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment against Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar on Thursday, alleging he accepted bribes, concealed income, evaded taxes and lied to investigators.
Huizar, 61, is accused of accepting $1.5 million in “illicit financial benefits,” the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles said in a statement. He was arrested last month and released on $100,000 bond.
A spokeswoman for Huizar did not immediately respond Thursday evening to a request for comment.
The new allegations include multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, traveling interstate in aid of racketeering, bribery and money laundering and single counts of structuring cash deposits to conceal bribes, making a false statement to a financial institution, making false statements to federal law enforcement and tax evasion.
The case stems from allegations that Huizar took bribes from an unnamed Chinese billionaire developer and others in exchange for weighing in favorably on proposed construction projects.
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Huizar was chair of the city’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
The indictment alleges the councilman received about $800,000 in benefits from the billionaire, described by the U.S. Attorney’s office as a multinational developer who owns a hotel in Huizar’s district.
The developer wanted to build a 77-story building in Huizar’s district.
Prosecutors alleged in last month’s criminal complaint that Huizar received “direct and indirect financial benefits” on more than a dozen trips to Las Vegas casinos, which included rides on private jets and stays at posh villas.
He failed to report his “illicit benefits” on tax returns, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
The grand jury indictment alleges Huizar operated his office as a “criminal organization,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s statement, and that others, including a former deputy mayor, Huizar’s special assistant and a real estate development consultant, participated.
In May, George Esparza, 33, a “special assistant” to Huizar until 2017, agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators about his role in the alleged scheme.
The FBI raided Huizar’s home and office in November 2018, and he was subsequently stripped of his committee assignments.
“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,” federal prosecutors said in their statement Wednesday.
Huizar was scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Monday by videoconference.
The indictment is part of a wider probe of City Hall corruption in Los Angeles that has seen five people charged. Former Councilman Mitch Englander pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of scheming to falsify facts about trips, funded by a businessman, he took to Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
Huizar has represented the downtown area since 2005.
Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.