Jose Huizar is the focal figure of a six-year investigation into suspected corruption in City Hall politics in Los Angeles. Along with his associates, the former councilman was allegedly involved in a $1.5-million pay-to-play scheme where real estate developers made cash and campaign donations in return for help in getting building permits through the approval process.
Six-year FBI Probe Uncovers an LA Mess
Jose Huizar was once allegedly escorted from a Las Vegas casino after he was identified as an elected official and “politically exposed individual” by employees, according to a report by media outlet LA Daily News. The documents filed by a federal prosecutor on Monday, December 20, show that Huizar refused to verify the source of his gambling money.
Los Angeles federal court received the papers in opposition to Huizar’s attempt to suppress evidence obtained in pursuance of a search warrant. The prosecution quotes from a 36-page FBI special agent affidavit that was used as support for the warrant.
The affidavit contains evidence from various sources, including several witnesses, casino and hotel records, as well as flight records. This evidence shows that Huizar went to Las Vegas at least eight times between 2014-2016 with a billionaire Chinese developer, Wei Huang, who had a business in his district.
Trading Favors for Money
Huizar was a representative of downtown LA and the chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee at the time. He has denied all claims of improprieties. He’ll have a chance to defend himself in court during a preliminary hearing set for January 31.
According to the affidavit, the ex-city councilman was on his fifth visit to Palazzo casino along with Huang, who is president of a global business development company in China. On that trip, casino staff allegedly noticed “suspicious activity” between them and provided evidence to the FBI.
According to the affidavit, surveillance footage shows Huizar and Huang gambling in a “high-end gambling salon reserved for high rollers” was included as evidence. In the footage, Huizar can reportedly be seen using Huang’s chips.
Gaming records show that Huizar also played in and eventually cashed in tens to thousands of dollars worth of chips. Additionally, hotel records indicate the developer gave Huizar luxury accommodations and private jet transportation, as prosecutors claim.
Mum’s The Word
These documents contain references to the alleged observations by Palazzo employees. Some described their interactions to Huizar and asked him for documents that would confirm that he, as an elected official and “politically exposed” person, had an “independent source [of] wealth sufficient to prove that he was betting with his own money.
Huizar refused the request. This gave the impression that Huizar was trying to “stay under the radar.” He was then taken out of the gaming area after failing to give information “to allay casino’s suspicions about him engaging in corruption on its premises,” according to prosecutors.
The five Palazzo trips were not the only ones that Huizar took. Compliance staffers at the hotel identified Huizar as Huizar and asked him for certification of the source of the money. However, prosecutors claim that Huizar was also a passenger on three other gambling trips to Las Vegas casinos.
Lobbyists, developers like Huang, as well as political operatives including Raymond Chan, a former city official, were all entangled in the federal probe. Chan was previously the general manager of the LA Department of Building and Safety. He was also the deputy mayor of economic growth.
According to court filings, defense attorneys claim that Huizar was only guilty of acting as an “evangelist for robust development.” His responsibility was to develop downtown LA, and the defense claims that prosecutors are confusing favors for bribes. Huizar, following the preliminary hearing, is expected to face trial in May.