Opinion: FBI corruption probe of City Hall kicks Mayor Garcetti right in the presidential ambitions
As he contemplates a presidential bid, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has to come up with a way to put a positive spin on some well-known negatives about the city, including a homelessness crisis, paralyzing traffic congestion, entrenched poverty and what may soon be the country’s biggest teachers’ strike. But one thing Garcetti hasn’t had to reckon with has been a corruption scandal in his administration.
Until, possibly, now.
The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the ongoing FBI investigation into Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar is part of a broader corruption probe that has included multiple City Hall insiders, including current and former members of Garcetti’s administration. A federal search warrant said agents were seeking evidence related to an investigation into an array of potential crimes, including bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering involving 13 people.
There are still a lot of questions, of course. It’s not clear what exactly the FBI is looking for or whether the agency has evidence of criminal activity by the individuals named in the warrant. Times reporters Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser wrote that the probe centers on development downtown, particularly high-rise projects bankrolled by Chinese investment firms.
Talk about ruining a weekend. Not that this week was expected to be a good one for the city and its mayor — it faces a potentially crippling teachers’ strike that will affect 500,000 students in about 900 schools across the city starting Monday. Garcetti has no formal role in the Los Angeles Unified School District and his offers to mediate the dispute were rejected. Still, the unresolved dispute and the chaos it will create in his city make it hard for Garcetti to tout that #mayorsgetthingsdone.
And the news tying the mayor’s office, even tangentially, to an FBI investigation could prove to be an unwelcome challenge for his would-be presidential candidacy. It’s hard to criticize White House corruption when City Hall is under its own cloud. Yusef Robb, Garcetti’s spokesman, said Monday the news of the investigation has no impact on the mayor’s decision on whether to run.
Until now, the FBI investigation appeared to be narrowly targeting Huizar. FBI agents raided Huizar’s home and offices in November. The bureau has not said what it is investigating, but Times reporters last year dug up troubling allegations that the councilman had asked companies that do business with City Hall to donate to a private school where his wife was working as a fundraiser, and that he assigned his staff to help with the effort.
The warrant, which was filed in November but recently uncovered by a George Washington University researcher, suggests federal investigators have cast a wider net that touches some of the most powerful people in City Hall.
The individuals named in the search warrant include Huizar and several of his council aides; Councilman Curren Price, who represents parts of downtown and South L.A.; Deron Williams, chief of staff to Council President Herb Wesson; Raymond Chan, who was Garcetti’s deputy mayor for economic development until he retired in 2017; and Joel Jacinto, whom Garcetti appointed to a full-time, paid position on the Board of Public Works.
The warrant was served on Google in July for information from a private email account for Chan. Chan was the general manager for the Department of Building and Safety before joining the Garcetti administration in 2016.
The warrant also named three companies described as “foreign investors” and which have all developed high-rise projects downtown in Huizar’s district. The warrant sought records relating to involvement by the companies or other foreign investors in development projects in and around Los Angeles.
No one has been arrested or charged in connection with the investigation. Several individuals named in the warrant and who were contacted by Times reporters said they hadn’t been contacted by the FBI and knew nothing of the warrant. It’s impossible to say if this investigation will result in charges or not.
There’s no indication that the probe reaches the mayor himself, and that’s worth repeating. In fact, a Garcetti spokesman told The Times that no one in the office has been asked by the FBI for information, let alone subpoenaed. Nevertheless, if the FBI is pursuing some of Garcetti’s appointees, the mayor could find himself with another problem to explain away on the campaign trail.
For more opinions, follow me @kerrycavan
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