The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury filed a lawsuit against LA city councilor Jose Huizar, who allegedly accepted more than $ 1 million in bribes.
Federal officials believe that Huizar "ran a criminal company using his powerful position in City Hall to enrich himself and his close staff" by accepting bribes of at least $ 1.5 million, to accelerate construction in the city.
More than $ 800,000 of the money was reportedly paid by a Chinese billionaire, identified as Chairman E, who owns a hotel in Huizar's district. The Chinese businessman reportedly provided Huizar with $ 600,000 in collateral to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee against Huizar.
Huizar also reportedly used family members to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars and instructed an assistant to forge bank statements in a bank loan.
Federal agents confiscated approximately $ 129,000 in cash in a November 2018 search of the L.A. City Councilman @josehuizar home in Boyle Heights. Pic.twitter.com/nYxwybj5Tn
– U.S. Attorney L.A. (@USAO_LosAngeles) June 23, 2020
The entire lawsuit against Huizar includes a conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Affected and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 12 cases of cable fraud in honest services, two cases of email fraud in honest services, four cases of international travel in favor of Racketeering and six bribery cases, five cases of money laundering, one case of structuring cash deposits to cover up bribes, one case of making false statements to a financial institution, one case of making false statements to federal law enforcement agencies and one case of tax evasion.
The charges of RICO conspiracy, fraud for honest services and money laundering can each last up to 20 years in federal prison. Huizar also faces a maximum legal penalty of 30 years in prison for providing false information to a financial institution. The bribes stipulate a maximum legal penalty of 10 years in the federal prison. Charges for tax evasion, structuring, false statements to law enforcement agencies, and interstate travel in favor of extortion are a maximum of five years.
The FBI raided Huizar's house in Boyle Heights in November 2018, although no charges were brought against him at that time.
The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said that the raid in 2018 seized around $ 129,000 in cash from Huizar's home.
He served and continued to vote in the council until early March 2020, when city council president Nury Martinez asked Huizar to stop attending its meetings.
On June 23, Huizar was arrested by the FBI for federal blackmail and additional charges have been filed since then.
"This case has pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall," said US attorney Nick Hanna. "City councilor Huizar has amazingly violated public trust and has reportedly requested and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from various sources for many years."
As part of the investigation, former LA City Council member Mitch Englander recently pleaded guilty to corruption charges after accepting money and gifts from business people. Englander resigned in 2018 with a two-year term.
A total of five people were indicted in the FBI investigation, including former deputy mayor George Esparza, Huizar's former special assistant, and real estate development advisor George Chiang.