LA Councilman Pleads Not Guilty in Real Estate Corruption Scheme

Huizar was indicted on 34 felony charges involving multiple developers

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Councilman Jose Huizar — the former chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee — pleaded not guilty this week to charges alleging he led a “criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles.”

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Huizar was indicted on 34 charges of bribery, racketeering, money laundering, extortion, wire fraud, tax evasion, and more nefarious activities involving illegal deals with real estate developers, the Los Angeles Times reported

Prosecutors accuse him of creating a wide pay-for-play scheme for companies to gain city approval on massive or otherwise contentious commercial projects. It garnered cash bribes, prostitution services, gambling trips, and other illicit gifts and campaign donations, and it amounted to at least $1.5 million in illegal financial benefit. 

One of the most notable allegations includes $600,000 from a Chinese billionaire who wanted to build a 77-story skyscraper. That money helped Huizar settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former staffer, according to authorities. 

Chinese developer Shenzhen New World Group was among the developers named in a search warrant in the same investigation, and had proposed the 77-story tower at the Marriott at 333 South Figueroa Street in Huizar’s downtown district.

City officials have also moved to revoke another project with a 435-unit residential tower and a 300-room hotel by Shenzhen Hazens Real Estate, and members of the City Council have also said the city should review all projects connected to the corruption probe, and potentially suspend or revoke their entitlements.

Huizar is the fifth person to be charged in the investigation. Huizar’s former aide George Esparza, as well as former Councilman Mitchell Englander, real estate consultant George Chiang, and political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim, have all pleaded guilty. 

In May, Esparza agreed to plead guilty, and admitted to squeezing money from developers for Huizar. Englander was indicted for allegedly trying to cover up cash payments, a female escort, a trip to Las Vegas, and other bribes.

Huizar was first elected about 15 years ago, but he allegedly created his criminal enterprise in 2013, according to authorities. He was removed from his role as chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee — which oversees approval discretion for the city’s largest proposed projects — after federal agents raided Huizar’s home and office in 2018.