The acrimonious race between Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and onetime friend Rudy Martinez took an unusual turn Monday when the challenger said federal agents had questioned him about some of Huizar's private business dealings.
Martinez said FBI agents interviewed him roughly six months ago about various issues, including repairs that he arranged for Huizar in 2006 and 2007 at a rental house owned by the councilman and his wife.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre resigned in 1999 after prosecutors conducted an investigation into roof repairs at his home. Alatorre did not resign but chose not to run for another four-year term.
Martinez, 44, said two agents met with him for two hours last summer in Glendale and asked about work he had coordinated at a Spanish-style house owned by the councilman in El Sereno. The work cost $10,330 and included painting, new carpet and plaster repairs, said Martinez, who has a real estate business in addition to a sushi restaurant in Eagle Rock.
Martinez said Huizar had not paid for the work at that time. Instead, Martinez wound up paying the various contractors. Then, just over a week ago and in the heat of the campaign, Martinez received a check for $8,980 from Huizar's wife, Richelle Rios.
A spokesman for Huizar strongly denied that any federal investigation was underway involving the councilman and said the check from Huizar's wife arrived only recently because the amount due had been in dispute. Parke Skelton, a Huizar political consultant, said Martinez is "stirring up as much trouble for Jose as he possibly can" because his campaign is in trouble.
"No one is investigating Jose," he said.
The FBI said it would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation. But two ex-Huizar staffers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, said they also discussed the councilman in separate interviews with federal agents.
The former Huizar aides said they were asked if they knew anything about Huizar's bank accounts. Both said they did not.
Martinez's comments Monday provided the latest twist in a nasty contest between two men who once socialized in the small world of the 14th Council District, which stretches from Eagle Rock to Boyle Heights. When he was reelected to the council four years ago, Huizar celebrated at Marty's, a Highland Park bar owned by Martinez. Until June, Martinez's mother worked for Huizar.
The issue of home repairs has come up before in Huizar's Eastside district. In 1999, former Councilman Richard Alatorre declined to run again after prosecutors conducted an investigation into roof repairs at his Eagle Rock home. He pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion two years later for failing to report more than $40,000 in income.
Martinez said two FBI agents met with him in July and asked how he knew Huizar. Martinez said he told them that he had refinanced Huizar's home in Boyle Heights in 2006 and, about the same time, helped supervise repairs at Huizar's rental house on La Calandria Way.
"They asked if he ever paid for that work," Martinez said. "I said no. They asked if I ever sent invoices, and I said yes, I did."
Martinez said he never took Huizar to court over the unpaid bills and had not spoken to him about them since last March, when the two met at the Coffee Table in Eagle Rock. During that meeting, Huizar indicated that he could not pay right away and would have to make a series of payments on the bills regarding his rental house, Martinez said.
Nothing arrived until last month, said Martinez, who provided The Times with a copy of the check and a letter from Huizar that accompanied it.
Skelton said the councilman's family sent the check to end a billing dispute and "put it behind them." Skelton said Martinez has a history of "making stuff up" and noted — as Huizar has in recent campaign appearances — that Martinez has a criminal record.
During his late teens and early 20s, Martinez was convicted of loitering, reckless driving and two misdemeanor counts of battery. Martinez said those convictions, occurring from 1985 to 1992, came during a turbulent period in his life, when he was distraught over the murder of his brother.
Martinez said he learned from his mistakes and went on to have a successful career, one that eventually included providing real estate services to Huizar. At one point, Martinez said, he also helped Huizar find tenants for his El Sereno rental.
Some of the repairs at that home were needed so an employee of then-newly elected school board member Monica Garcia could move in, Martinez said. Garcia herself showed up at one point to see how the house looked, he added.
Garcia's office did not respond to an inquiry from The Times.
The check sent by Huizar's wife was accompanied by a letter from the councilman asking whether Martinez lacked a contractors' license to perform the work. Martinez said he did not need one for the job because the repairs were cosmetic.
In his letter, Huizar also accused Martinez of failing to schedule follow-up meetings with him about the repairs.
"Despite my continuing concerns, I remain committed to resolving this dispute," Huizar wrote.