By FRED SHUSTER
Former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar pleaded guilty today to two federal charges stemming from a City Hall-based bribery and money laundering scheme in which he took more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for his support of a planned downtown hotel project.
Huizar pleaded guilty in downtown Los Angeles to racketeering conspiracy and tax evasion. The charges could carry a sentence of up to 25 years behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The plea agreement, which was filed Thursday in Los Angeles federal court, says the ex-councilman agreed to a prison sentence of no less than nine years, but prosecutors said they will request a 13-year term in federal prison.
Huizar will also be ordered to pay restitution of about $1.85 million, the document states.
U.S. District Judge John Walter scheduled sentencing for April 3.
During the Friday morning hearing, it took prosecutors nearly 90 minutes to read the factual basis for the plea deal, outlining the intricacies of the pay-to-play scheme that prompted an FBI probe and cast a shadow of corruption over Los Angeles City Hall.
Walter asked Huizar a series of questions before accepting the plea deal, asking the ex-politician if he committed the acts being alleged.
“Yes I did, your honor,” he replied.
Huizar’s co-defendant, former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, is scheduled to go on trial next month on charges of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Before Huizar signed his plea deal, he and Chan were set to go on trial together Feb. 21.
According to a 42-page factual basis for his plea, Huizar, as an elected member of the City Council, led a criminal enterprise in which he used his position at City Hall to enrich himself and his associates, and unlawfully gave favorable treatment to developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit financial benefits.
In addition to the RICO conspiracy, Huizar’s plea agreement describes instances of honest services wire and mail fraud, traveling interstate in aid of racketeering, bribery, money laundering, making false statements and tax evasion.
Huizar, 54, of Boyle Heights, initialed each page of the document.
Two trials already arising out of the indictment against Huizar and his associates have ended in convictions.
In the first Huizar-related trial, a federal jury found Bel Air real estate developer David Lee and 940 Hill LLC, a Lee-controlled company, guilty of felony charges, including fraud and bribery, for providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of their downtown development project.
In the second trial, real estate development company Shen Zhen New World I LLC was found guilty of paying Huizar $1 million in bribes to obtain city approval to build a 77-story skyscraper.
During the Shen Zhen trial, Huizar’s 83-year-old mother, his older brother and his estranged wife testified for the prosecution.
Chan, a deputy mayor who oversaw economic development for ex-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2016 and 2017, was accused along with Huizar of shaking down developers.
As one of his roles on the City Council, Huizar was chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, commonly referred to as the PLUM Committee, which oversaw major commercial and residential development projects in the city.
Federal prosecutors have thus far convicted nine defendants and received over $3 million in criminal penalties to resolve the federal probe into two other major real estate development companies, as a result of operation “Casino Loyale,” the investigation into City Hall corruption conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Huizar’s older brother, Salvador Huizar, 57, of Boyle Heights, pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents about receiving envelopes of cash from his brother. He is set to be sentenced in May.