Posted on: January 28, 2024, 05:15h.
Last updated on: January 28, 2024, 05:16h.
A former Los Angeles City Councilmember who pleaded guilty a year ago this month to tax evasion and conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act has been sentenced.
On Friday, US Judge John Walter in the Central District of California sentenced José Luis Huizar, 55, of Boyle Heights, to 13 years in federal prison. The disgraced politician must also pay $443,905 in restitution to the City of Los Angeles and $38,792 to the IRS.
No one is above the law,” said US Attorney Martin Estrada. “Today’s sentence shows that even a powerful elected official like Huizar will be held accountable for engaging in criminal misconduct. Huizar was elected to serve the interests of the hard-working people of Los Angeles, but he instead served his own personal interests in a long-running, pay-to-play, bribery scheme. Our community deserves better.”
Huizar represented Council District 14 from December 2006 through August 2020 when federal prosecutors brought charges against him. CD-14 includes the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Downtown, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, El Sereno, Garvanza, Lincoln Heights, and Monterey Hills.
Bribery Scheme Included Las Vegas Trips
Federal prosecutors alleged and proved in court that Huizar was bribed by a Chinese billionaire who was trying to secure city approvals to build what would have been the tallest building west of the Mississippi in downtown Los Angeles. US attorneys said Huang Wei and his Shenzhen New World Group bribed Huizar with cash and gifts totaling nearly $2 million to win over city councilors into approving the controversial project.
The US attorney’s office for the Central District of California said Huang took Huizar on several lavish trips to Las Vegas where large sums of cash were laundered through Strip casinos, including the Cosmopolitan. Huang reportedly arranged prostitutes for Huizar and flew him to and from Sin City on his private jet.
“The benefits ranged from cash bribes, casino gambling chips, prostitution services, political contributions, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury hotels and casinos, expensive meals, tickets to concerts and sporting events, and other things of value. In exchange for these benefits, Huizar used his public office positions to take official acts and give favorable treatment towards the projects of the paying real estate developers,” the US government said in a statement on the prosecution.
To maintain his council seat in 2013 amid a sexual harassment lawsuit, federal authorities say Huizar turned to Huang to help him pay for his settlement. Prosecutors claim Huang surreptitiously routed $600,000 to Huizar through a foreign shell company that the councilmember used to pay off his accuser.
Huan Remains on the Run
Seven other individuals pleaded guilty or were found guilty of participating in the bribery scheme. The charges included honest services wire fraud, bribery, falsification of records, obstructing justice, making false statements, and racketeering.
The Department of Justice says Huang remains a fugitive and has yet to appear in court. He has been charged with several felonies and is “believed to be in China.”