June 23, 2020 / 7:49 PM / 17 days ago

Top Los Angeles city official arrested on racketeering charges

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles city councilman was arrested on racketeering charges on Tuesday, with prosecutors saying he ran his office as a “money-making criminal enterprise,” taking bribes from Chinese real estate developers and others in exchange for political influence.

FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar listens to public comments before the city council voted to ban storefront medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, California, July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn/File Photo

Jose Huizar, 51, a Democrat whose district includes downtown Los Angeles, was taken into custody without incident at his home in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, federal prosecutors said. They said he was arraigned at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and released on $100,000 bond.

“This case pulled back the curtain on rampant corruption at City Hall,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “Councilman Huizar violated the public trust to a staggering degree, allegedly soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from multiple sources over many years.”

Later, the city council voted unanimously to suspend Huizar, first elected in 2005, whose fourth term ends this year. Representatives for Huizar could not be reached for comment.

Huizar’s arrest caps a lengthy investigation into corruption in America’s second-largest city. In November 2018, FBI agents raided Huizar’s home, and prosecutors said that search turned up $129,000 hidden in a closet.

Four other defendants have agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors in the high-profile case, including George Esparza, a former top aide to the councilman.

Council president Nury Martinez said she would begin the process of removing Huizar from the $200,000-per-year job.

“That is our duty and we must do it,” Martinez said in the statement.

Accusations against Huizar in court documents include that he accepted $600,000 from representatives of a Chinese billionaire, identified only as “Chairman E”, funds allegedly used to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former staffer.

In another instance Huizar accepted a $500,000 bribe from an individual identified only as “Developer C” to resolve a dispute with a labor organization holding up a project, prosecutors say.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio

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