Judge denies Huizar’s bid for separate trial from co-defendant Chan
By FRED SHUSTER
Former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar has lost his bid for a severance from his co-defendant in their forthcoming trial on federal public corruption charges, according to court papers obtained Wednesday by City News Service.
In an order filed late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Walter denied the motion for severance, leaving in place the Feb. 21 trial date for Huizar and co-defendant former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan.
Huizar had argued that he and Chan should be granted separate trials, despite missing the deadline to file such a motion, because Chan’s attorney had indicated his strategy would include acting as a “second prosecutor” and telling the jury that his client was innocent and had been swept up in the prosecution’s theory of Huizar’s culpability.
In Chan attorney Harland Braun’s declaration in support of Huizar’s motion to sever, Braun states that he intends to argue before the jury that Huizar is guilty and Chan is not guilty “by comparing and contrasting their conduct as criminal and noncriminal, respectively.”
Huizar claimed that a co-defendant severance is appropriate because Chan’s purported “antagonistic defense” would prevent the ex-councilman from receiving a fair trial.
However, the judge wrote that Huizar had “failed to meet his heavy burden” of demonstrating that Braun’s strategy is so prejudicial that a jury’s acceptance of Chan’s theory would preclude Huizar’s acquittal.
The judge also noted that since Huizar’s attorneys had failed to identify their own defense plans for the court, “it is difficult, if not impossible, for the court to conclude that Chan’s defense is irreconcilable” with Huizar’s own courtroom strategy.
Huizar and Chan are charged with dozens of federal counts, including racketeering. Huizar is named as the central player in the alleged wide-ranging City Hall corruption scheme in which prosecutors say he took more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for his support of a planned downtown hotel project.
The judge originally separated the 34-count indictment against Huizar and his associates into three trials. In the two trials that have taken place, 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 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, is 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 corruption investigation into City Hall corruption being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.