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Former LA Councilman Wins Delay in Date to Begin Prison Sentence

Former LA Councilman Wins Delay in Date to Begin Prison Sentence

L.A. Councilman José Huizar speaks on the steps of City Hall during the "Forward on Climate" rally on Feb. 17, 2013. (David McNew/Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

4/17/2024

Updated: 4/17/2024

A federal judge on April 16 granted convicted former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar a four-month delay in his surrender date to begin serving a 13-year prison term for accepting bribes from downtown developers and cheating on his taxes.
Huizar was ordered at sentencing to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons no later than April 30. However, papers filed in Los Angeles federal court Monday sought a new date of Aug. 30 based on undisclosed medical reasons.
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter granted the request on Tuesday for “good cause.'’
Huizar’s attorney indicated in a filing that his argument in support of the delay would contain “private medical information'' and should be filed under seal.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.
Huizar, 55, pleaded guilty last year to felony charges of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and tax evasion.
Along with the 13-year prison term, Huizar was ordered in January to pay nearly $444,000 in restitution to the city of Los Angeles and almost $39,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. A court filing in February signed by the judge indicates Huizar has paid the latter amount in full.
Huizar represented Council District 14, which includes downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, from 2005 until his resignation in 2020. According to his lawyers, Huizar was “an evangelist for robust development'‘ in efforts to ensure Los Angeles was befitting of a ”world-class city.’’
Huizar admitted to operating a pay-to-play scheme in which he and others unlawfully used his office to give favorable treatment to real estate developers who financed and facilitated cash bribes, campaign donations and other illicit benefits.
Federal prosecutors said Huizar monetized his position and leveraged his political clout for over $1.5 million in cash bribes, gambling chips, luxury trips, political contributions, prostitutes, extravagant meals, services, concerts and other gifts.
“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,'' according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Huizar also admitted to accepting a $600,000 bribe payment in the form of a “loan'' from China-based billionaire real estate developer Wei Huang to secretly settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit against Huizar by a former staffer. Huang was also charged in the case but is considered a fugitive believed to be in China.
Members and associates of the scheme included lobbyists, consultants and other city officials and staffers, who sought to personally enrich themselves and their families and associates in exchange for official acts.
They included George Esparza, Huizar’s former special assistant, real estate development consultant George Chiang, political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim, and lobbyist Morrie Goldman, among others. Each pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.
Huizar’s co-defendant, former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, who was general manager of the Department of Building and Safety before becoming the city’s deputy mayor of economic development, was convicted at retrial last month of a dozen federal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and other charges for helping Huizar in the bribery scheme.
Chan’s sentencing hearing is set for June 10, but defense attorneys are seeking a mistrial based on what the judge revealed was an overheard remark made by a juror saying they wanted a “quick'' verdict. A hearing is scheduled for May 3 in downtown Los Angeles.
Before Huizar pleaded guilty to federal charges, he and Chan were scheduled to go on trial together. A mistrial was declared in Chan’s first trial last year due to a defense attorney’s medical emergency.
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