After years of denial, former Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar has confessed to extorting at least $1.5 million in bribes from real estate developers while he was in office. He pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion charges in a downtown L.A. courtroom on Friday.
Huizar struck a deal with prosecutors after a group of developers were found guilty of bribing the councilman in November. During the trial, three of Huizar’s own family members testified against him.
As part of the agreement, prosecutors requested a sentence of no more than 13 years in prison. Huizar promised not to ask for less than nine.
Huizar represented the downtown L.A. area for 15 years. He was also the head of the council’s planning and land use commission, giving him significant power over large-scale real estate projects.
Huizar’s confession confirms he led a criminal syndicate of lobbyists, consultants and city officials who would “personally enrich themselves and their families and associates through a pay-to-play scheme within the city.” The individuals, including Huizar, accepted cash, gambling chips, loans, political donations, escorts, concert tickets and hotel stays from developers in exchange for favorable committee votes and other official acts.
Huizar is just the latest domino to fall at City Hall. Former L.A. Councilman Mitch Englander pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from real estate developers two years ago. Huizar’s former special assistant, George Esparza, his brother, a lobbyist and two real estate consultants also pleaded guilty for their roles in the corruption scheme. And former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan has a racketeering trial scheduled for Feb. 21. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas will go on trial in his own public bribery scheme this March.
“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” former U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna previously said of the charges against Huizar.
Los Angeles deserves so much better.