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Bribery Scheme Involving Gambling Trips Leads to Prison Sentence for California Politician

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Former Los Angeles City Councilmember José Luis Huizar has been sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for his involvement in corruption and tax evasion involving a scheme that included payoffs through casino trips. The sentencing occurred last Friday, with Huizar, aged 55 and residing in Boyle Heights, ordered to pay $443,905 in restitution to the City of Los Angeles and an additional $38,792 to the IRS.

Trading Favors

Huizar's guilty plea in January 2023 encompassed charges of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and tax evasion. Serving as the representative for Council District 14 (CD-14), which includes downtown Los Angeles, from 2005 until he resigned in 2020, Huizar's fall from grace, according to the judge, epitomizes a stark betrayal of public trust.

During the sentencing, Judge Walter emphasized the severe impact of public corruption on democratic institutions. He highlighted the potential to erode public confidence, disengage citizens from the democratic process and damage the delicate fabric of democracy. Huizar's actions were characterized as a reprehensible misuse of power, with a destructive effect on the public's faith in government.

US Attorney Martin Estrada emphasized that the sentence demonstrates the accountability of even powerful elected officials for engaging in criminal misconduct. Huizar's corrupt practices, described as a "pay-to-play bribery" scheme, showcased a blatant disregard for the interests of the hardworking people of Los Angeles.

The investigation brought to light what prosecutors termed the CD-14 Enterprise, a criminal conspiracy masterminded by Huizar. The enterprise operated the scheme to achieve financial gain through bribes, retain Huizar's political influence and proactively avoid being discovered by law enforcement. Huizar targeted almost $2 million in bribes from real estate developers, utilizing his position to provide favorable treatment to their projects.

Bribes, ranging from cash and casino chips to political contributions and luxury perks, were used to secure Huizar's support for various development projects. These schemes involved multiple bribery instances, including soliciting $500,000 in cash from developer David Lee and accepting over $1 million in benefits from billionaire real estate developer Wei Huang.

Personal Gain Over Public Service

To sustain his political position amid a 2013 sexual harassment lawsuit threat, Huizar orchestrated a complex scheme involving routing $600,000 in collateral from Huang through a shell company. This maneuver was employed to secretly pay off the accuser and make the suit go away. Huizar's actions, detailed in a guilty plea, included obstructing justice, witness tampering and providing false information to federal prosecutors and agents.

Prosecutors portrayed Huizar's conduct as prioritizing personal greed over the welfare of his constituents. The impact of his criminal activities, described as one of the most audacious public corruption cases in the city's history, extended beyond eroding public confidence in local government.

Other individuals charged alongside Huizar in the indictment faced various charges related to the corruption matter. The sentencing hearings for these individuals, including Dae Yong Lee, Wei Huang, Raymond She Wah Chan, Justin Jangwoo Kim, Morris Roland Goldman, George Chiang, George Esparza and Salvador Huizar, are scheduled on different dates.

As Huizar's final term approached expiration in 2020, he attempted to maintain political power by orchestrating his wife's candidacy as his successor. However, his indictment in July 2020 led to his resignation, marking the end of his political career tainted by corruption and betrayal of public trust.

District Judge John F. Walter, who presided over the case, emphasized the destructive impact of public corruption on democracy. He ordered Huizar to surrender to federal authorities by April 30 to begin his sentence.

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