Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar speaks at The Midnight Mission's 11th Annual Golden Hearts Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on May 9, 2011. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
One year after pleading guilty to what federal prosecutors called “a long-running, pay-to-play bribery scheme,” former Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar was sentenced to 13 years in prison Jan. 26.
The sentencing caps a years-long investigation into a conspiracy that sought nearly $2 million in perks and bribes from real estate developers and others. Besides political contributions, payoffs came in the form of cash, casino chips, prostitutes, airline flights, and more.
“No one is above the law,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. “Today’s sentence shows that even a powerful elected official like Huizar will be held accountable.”
The former councilman was also ordered to pay $443,905 in restitution to the city and $38,792 to the IRS.
Mr. Huizar, 55, sat expressionless during the hearing in downtown Los Angeles but spoke briefly, apologizing to his family and district residents.
As councilman from 2005 to 2020, he represented District 14, which includes Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, and downtown Los Angeles.
Prosecutors said that for years, Mr. Huizar used his position as chair of the Planning and Land Use committee to seek benefits from developers and their proxies.
In one scheme, prosecutors say, Mr. Huizar solicited $500,000 in cash for himself and his co-conspirators from developer David Lee in exchange for resolving an appeal by a labor organization against a project in which Mr. Lee was seeking approval.
Mr. Huizar also received more than $1 million in benefits from billionaire developer Wei Huang in exchange for supporting the approval of a project aiming to redevelop the L.A. Grand Hotel into a 77-story skyscraper.
In 2013, when Mr. Huizar’s council seat was threatened by a sexual harassment suit, prosecutors say he schemed to send $600,000 from Mr. Huang through a foreign shell company to confidentially settle the suit. Mr. Huizar also laundered bribe money through his mother and brother, and failed to list his benefits on his tax returns.
“For years, defendant operated his pay-to-play scheme in the city of Los Angeles to monetize his public position and leverage his political clout. ... If anyone dared rebuff his call to pay bribes, he punished them and their city projects, threatening developers with indefinitely delayed projects and financial peril,” a memo filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, who said corruption by elected officials has “the real potential to destroy the delicate fabric of our democracy.”
Prosecutors said Mr. Huizar chose “to place his own lust for money and power above the rights and interests of the people he was elected to serve,” adding that the councilman “helped gut the public’s confidence in the integrity of its local government.”
The judge ordered Mr. Huizar to surrender to authorities April 30 to begin his prison term.
Mr. Huizar’s co-defendant, former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, is scheduled to be tried Feb. 27.
City News Service contributed to this report.