By FRED SHUSTER | City News Service
LOS ANGELES — Jose Huizar’s attorneys on Friday, Jan. 7, failed to persuade a judge that bribery charges against the ex-Los Angeles city councilman should be tossed because the alleged conduct does not violate laws cited in the 41-count federal racketeering indictment.
Huizar, the central figure in a six-year probe of suspected corruption in City Hall politics, and his associates were allegedly involved in a $1.5 million pay-to-play scheme in which real estate developers were shaken down for cash and campaign donations in exchange for help getting building projects through the city’s approval process.
The defense argued in a three-hour hearing conducted via Zoom that the federal corruption statutes brought against Huizar and former city official Raymond Chan are overbroad, repeatedly transgress the Supreme Court’s limits on such charges and violate the statute of limitations.
“The government is taking a kitchen sink approach, throwing everything against the jury, including evidence that may be distasteful but not illegal,” Huizar attorney Charles Snyder told the judge.
In the indictment, prosecutors confuse favors as bribes, deem that First Amendment-protected contributions are crimes, and treat “virtually everything that Huizar did as an ‘official act’ no matter how informal or disconnected from government power,” according to the defense motion obtained by City News Service.
Snyder argued that legal and illegal acts were mixed together in the indictment, constituting a “wish list” of evidence the government “wants to get in front of the jury.”
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, who is overseeing the case, responded that the 452 overt acts cited in the indictment are used to present a more detailed context of the scope of the alleged conspiracy. Overt acts do not have to be unlawful to be relevant to the case, he said, denying Huizar and Chan’s joint dismissal bid.
The federal probe ensnared political operatives, lobbyists and developers.
Huizar represented downtown L.A. and was the chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee — known as PLUM. Chan was the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and, more recently, the city’s deputy mayor of economic development. Both have denied all charges.
Defense attorneys contend that Huizar’s only crime was acting as an “evangelist for robust development” whose mission as representative of Council District 14 was to bring hotels, apartments, jobs, tourism, and entertainment to the city’s downtown.
A hearing in Los Angeles federal court to discuss further pending motions is set for Jan. 31. Huizar, Chan, billionaire developer Wei Huang, and Bel Air developer Dae Yong “David” Lee are expected to face trial in May.
The defense argues that Huizar and Chan saw it as their responsibility to bring development and businesses to downtown Los Angeles. Partly as a result of their work, “the region became a livable and attractive destination for locals and tourists alike. During this period, nearly everyone in Los Angeles talked or heard about how much downtown had improved,” the defense dismissal motion says.
“Huizar’s ability to raise money from developers — who, like other interests, supported him because he supported them — helped to fund not only homelessness initiatives, but the campaigns of some of the most prominent local, state, and national politicians,” defense attorneys wrote.
The federal indictment “reimagines this period as one permeated by corruption,” and wrongly charges Huizar and Chan “with selling out their constituents and running (the council district) as a criminal enterprise,” according to Huizar’s attorneys.
Co-defendants George Esparza, Huizar’s former special assistant, real estate development consultant George Chiang, and fundraiser Justin Kim each pleaded guilty in 2020 to federal charges.