By FRED SHUSTER
Former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar is expected to plead guilty Friday to federal charges that outline a City Hall-based bribery and money laundering scheme in which he took more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for his support of a planned downtown hotel project, according to court papers obtained Thursday by City News Service.
Huizar’s plea agreement to racketeering conspiracy and tax evasion was signed Wednesday and filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday afternoon.
The document states that Huizar faces a sentence of up to 26 years behind bars once he pleads guilty, but he has agreed to a prison sentence of no less than nine years.
He is expected to enter his guilty plea during a change-of-plea hearing Friday morning. But before Huizar can enter the guilty plea, U.S. District Judge John Walter must accept the terms of the plea deal.
At sentencing, Huizar will be ordered to pay restitution of about $1.85 million, the document states.
Huizar’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.
There was no immediate on word on whether Huizar’s co-defendant, former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, will also plead guilty. Trial for the pair on federal charges of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act was scheduled for Feb. 21.
According to a 42-page factual basis for his guilty plea, Huizar, as an elected member of the City Council, led a criminal enterprise in which he used his position at City Hall to enrich himself and his associates, and unlawfully gave favorable treatment to developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit financial benefits.
In addition to the RICO conspiracy, Huizar’s plea agreement describes instances of honest services wire and mail fraud, traveling interstate in aid of racketeering, bribery, money laundering, making false statements and tax evasion.
Huizar, 54, of Boyle Heights, initialed each of the 42 pages.
Two trials arising out of the indictment against Huizar and his associates have ended in convictions. Real estate development company Shen Zhen New World I LLC was found guilty of paying Huizar $1 million in bribes to obtain city approval to build a 77-story skyscraper.
In the first Huizar-related trial, a federal jury in June found Bel Air real estate developer David Lee and 940 Hill LLC, a Lee-controlled company, guilty of felony charges, including fraud and bribery, for providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of their downtown development project.
During the Shen Zhen trial, Huizar’s 83-year-old mother, his older brother and his estranged wife testified for the prosecution.
Chan, a deputy mayor who oversaw economic development for ex-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2016 and 2017, was accused along with Huizar of shaking down developers.
As part of his roles on the City Council, Huizar was the chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, commonly referred to as the PLUM Committee, which oversaw major commercial and residential development projects in the city.
Federal prosecutors have thus far convicted a total of nine defendants along with receiving over $3 million in criminal penalties to resolve the federal probe into two other major real estate development companies, as a result of operation “Casino Loyale,” the ongoing investigation into City Hall corruption being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Huizar’s older brother, Salvador Huizar, 57, of Boyle Heights, pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents about receiving envelopes of cash from his brother. He is set to be sentenced in May.