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L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar enters not guilty plea in City Hall corruption case

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, shown in 2011, pleaded not guilty on Monday
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, pictured in 2011, pleaded not guilty on Monday to racketeering, bribery, money laundering and other federal charges.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar pleaded not guilty on Monday to bribery, money laundering and an array of other charges, his first public response to the allegations in the corruption probe since prosecutors began securing guilty pleas from others in the case.

Prosecutors announced last week that Huizar had been indicted on 34 felony counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud, tax evasion and giving false statements to investigators, which follow a previous allegation that he had been heading a criminal enterprise involving real estate developers, City Hall supplicants and an assortment of bribes.

Huizar, wearing a mask, entered his plea while appearing before a federal judge by video conference. His lawyers had previously declined to address the allegations lodged by federal prosecutors, saying they intended to wage a defense in court.

It was the councilman’s first court appearance since he received permission to have two deputy federal public defenders, Charles Snyder and Carel Alé, represent him in the probe. After he was arrested in June on a racketeering charge, City Controller Ron Galperin halted payment of the councilman’s salary, which was nearly $214,000 annually.

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A federal judge later determined that Huizar, who was first elected to the council in 2005, lacks the financial resources to “pay fully for retained counsel,” instructing him to pay the court $3,000 per month while he is represented by the public defender’s office.

Huizar, 51, has been accused of securing a wide array of bribes, including cash, luxury hotel stays, expensive suits, campaign donations and other perks from businessmen looking to develop multi-story real estate projects in his district, or profit from that development in other ways. Prosecutors said he had received at least $1.5 million in “illicit financial benefits.”

Developers allegedly bribed L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar to help get their projects approved. Officials are wrestling with the future of those projects.

The 113-page indictment, and a related affidavit filed two months ago, said Huizar relied on family members to launder the bribe proceeds. The documents offer a series of sordid allegations about the councilman, with prosecutors alleging that:

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— A Chinese billionaire seeking to build a 77-story skyscraper downtown provided $600,000 in collateral for a loan that helped the councilman quietly settle a sexual harassment lawsuit lodged against him by a former staffer.

— Huizar took out a loan from a company connected with that billionaire, which came with an $800,000 balloon payment that would have come due this month, had Huizar not stopped making payments on it altogether, investigators said.

— A businessman who wanted Huizar to introduce him to real estate developers provided the councilman escorts, $10,000 in cash per month and free hotel stays so that Huizar could carry out an affair. Prosecutors said Huizar instructed that businessman not to tell the FBI about his use of escort/prostitution services, whom he referred to as “dessert.”

— A real estate consultant, who later pleaded guilty in the case, complained that Huizar had asked him to coordinate a trip to Cuba for Huizar and a woman with whom the councilman was allegedly having an affair. The consultant declined, fearing that it would expose their corrupt relationships, prosecutors said.

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“I told [Huizar], I said look, we’re all gonna be on record and if something happens, everything, everyone’s dead,” the consultant said, according to the indictment filed last week.

A trial-setting conference in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.


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