Editor's Note: FBI agents arrested Los Angeles City Council member José Huizar at his Boyle Heights home on the morning of June 23 in connection with their investigation into town hall corruption. Huizar is accused of federal blackmail and the US attorney claims he has led a ring of aides, lobbyists, and developers who have arranged bribes in exchange for his help in approving real estate plans. In one case, prosecutors allege that Huizar accepted $ 600,000 from a developer that the council member used to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against him in 2014.
José Huizar has run downtown Los Angeles as a neighborhood for wealthy locals and tourists, and has more impact on what is being built than anyone else, except perhaps the developers themselves. Huizar, located near Downtown in Boyle Heights grew up was elected in 2005 to represent both areas on the Los Angeles City Council. He has spent much of his legacy making the Broadway corridor the heart of downtown and reopening old movie palaces, and companies like the Ace Hotel, which opened in 2014, and Eggslut, which opened on the Grand Central Market in 2013 to attract.
Huizar has not been indicted in a federal corruption case that takes place in Los Angeles, but he is the only person who complies with the details in court documents describing a LA legislature identified as "Councilor A" who in turn will Has received a bribe from downtown developers for help to get rid of resistance to their plans.
Justin Jangwoo Kim, a real estate appraiser and former town planning officer, pleaded guilty to having fixed the bribe from a video conference that aired on June 3 in a federal courtroom: $ 400,000 in cash, collected in a paper bag. The courthouse, which was fenced in to protest police violence and closed to the public due to the pandemic, was almost completely empty when Kim followed up on his plea from afar.
George Esparza, whom the Los Angeles Times has identified as one of Huizar's closest advisors, has also agreed to plead guilty as part of what the US attorney has described as a "pay-to-play bribe" program . In a defeat agreement signed on May 21, Esparza is described as a city worker and special assistant to Councilor A, for whom Esparza admits that he helped Kim organize the bribe.
A second member of the city council, Mitch Englander, who represented part of the San Fernando Valley from 2011 to 2018, also pleaded guilty to falsifying facts during the FBI investigation.
Huizar is not mentioned in any defense agreement, but Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, based on their conclusions on the details in the court files, asked him to step down on May 28 and said details in these Documents are "disgusting. ”
The corruption investigation has shown in dirty detail that at least two members of the Los Angeles City Council did not work for average angelenos. As the court records indicate, they worked for companies that can afford to withdraw hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and drop them off in a paper bag like a $ 15 takeaway meal.
The development company mentioned in the court documents is a limited liability company called 940 S. Hill LLC, whose three managers are listed in the state business records: Dae Lee, Jeong Kim and Hyuk Lim, three fashion district dealers. (This is the limit of Jeong Kim's involvement, as described in court records; all other references in history relate to Justin Jangwoo Kim.) An appeal has been filed against her plans to build a 232 condominium tower on Hill Street. and they wanted Council member A to drop this appeal.
The councilor was depressed to end the appeal – at a price. In a series of meetings that took place in cars, a cafe, a bowling alley, a hotel, and a karaoke bar in 2016 and 2017, Kim helped negotiate the sum – aid to the council member initially wanted $ 1.4 million and agreed $ 400,000 too. (The developer would later attack another $ 100,000.) The bribe was handed over in February 2017. The condominium department approved plans for condominiums two months later, but construction has not yet started.
Towards the end of the June 3 hearing, US District Court judge John Walter asked Kim if he had done all of these things, and Kim replied cautiously, "Yes, I did." work together to continue investigating corruption and conduct real estate transactions with elected officials in the city of Los Angeles.
Some of the details the investigators uncovered – escorts and Lakers playing cards and greed, clandestine encounters and cover-ups – are part of the plot of a great noir, a genre that has fictionalized some of LA's ugliest truths. But unlike the movies, no one is watching the Justice Department slowly but publicly unravel how some wealthy developers approve of their projects.
At this point, it is not known exactly how many businesses like this were assembled by the council member (others have been described in court records), but Kim had a long-term vision for building a lucrative development business in Downtown LA, and that depended on council member, Kim referred to as his "boss". Together, they planned a succession plan, with Kim agreeing to find an unidentified "employee" who would form a political action committee to assist the councilor's nameless relative to replace him if he leaves this year.
The succession plan is one of the most important details in the court documents, which seem to refer directly to Huizar: The files indicate that a relative of Councilor A announced her candidacy for his successor in September 2018. They also say that Councilor A is the chair of the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
The timeline coincides with that of Huizar: In September 2018, Huizar's wife Richelle announced a campaign to replace her husband. Two months later, after the FBI ransacked her boyle heights home, she stopped the race. Huizar chaired this committee from July 2013 to November 2018, when all committee duties were removed. Huizar's lawyer declined to comment on the story.
Kim, who resigned from the LA Urban Planning Commission in 2011, has donated to campaigning for a majority of the current City Council, including Mitch O & # 39; Farrell, Herb Wesson, Paul Krekorian, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Huizar. He was also a business partner of George Chiang. (Chiang is another San Gabriel Valley development consultant and real estate agent who has agreed to plead guilty to a corruption investigation in a separate case.)
According to the FBI, Chiang has linked Councilor A, who is also generally believed to be Huizar, to a Chinese developer who the Real Deal identified as Shenzhen Hazens Real Estate Group. Together, Chiang and the developer arranged a trip to Hong Kong and China for the council member and his family, agreed to contribute $ 100,000 to his relative's campaign, and gave his aides tickets for Lakers games. In return, the council member helped approve the developer's plans for a W-hotel and 435 condominiums near LA Live, including writing an application needed for the plans to be clarified by the Huizar-led planning and land use management committee .
Huizar has given no indication that he will resign before his term ends. He seems to have enjoyed the strength, even the looks. In an email to one of his co-workers on December 15, 2015, he wrote: “Just a reminder to commit and follow up when people ask me to be on the Honorary Committee. For events, even when I'm not present. I just saw that practically all of the Council members were on the HOPE Honorary Committee and I was not. "Aid, Mayra Alvarez, sued him in 2018 and claimed unlawful termination. Copies of emails and text messages in the lawsuit, which have not been resolved, show how Huizar treated them and kept demanding cups of tea, almost always without request or Say thank you, a text thread only reads:
Huizar and Englander, the other Los Angeles Council member involved in the investigation, have been on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee for more than five years. Englander left the council two years ago to work for a sports and entertainment company. After his resignation, the FBI accused him of trying to cover up gifts and trips with real estate developers.
As part of his plea agreement, he admitted to taking a trip to Las Vegas in 2017 with an unnamed real estate developer, lobbyist, and an unidentified company manager who worked with developers. They paid for his hotel room, $ 34,000 bottle service, and ordered an escort. Once, the manager gave Englanders an envelope with $ 10,000 in cash in a casino bathroom.
Later, after the FBI started questioning Englanders and the executive, the two drove through England's LA in Englander's car, while the council member reportedly trained the executive how to lie to investigators like a political thriller scene. When asked about escorts and checked his phone records, Englander said to him: "I was so drunk that I don't remember calling" or "I don't remember, maybe I called the wrong number".