By T.A. Hendrickson
José Huizar is scheduled to enter his plea to federal corruption charges on Monday, August 3 at 11:30 a.m. at the Edward R. Roybal federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Huizar, the L.A. City Councilmember for Council District 14, is expected to appear via videoconference.
Huizar, 51, stands accused of running a criminal enterprise from his perch at City Hall, enriching himself and his close associates via fraud, bribery, racketeering, money laundering, tax evasion and lying (to a bank and to federal law enforcement).
The charges, included in a 34-count federal grand-jury indictment released on July 30 and in a federal criminal complaint filed on June 23, mainly involve Huizar giving unlawful favorable treatment to real estate developers who paid or facilitated bribes and other illicit financial benefits — like stacks of casino chips to gamble with on trips to Las Vegas.
The scheduled arraignment on August 3 is the third time Huizar’s case has been on the court calendar. The previous arraignment dates – on July 20 and July 31 – were postponed by mutual agreement of prosecutors and Huizar’s lawyers.
Such delays, which must be approved by the judge, generally indicate that the two sides are working toward a plea agreement. In a typical deal, prosecutors agree to drop some of the charges in exchange for guilty pleas on others, an outcome that leads to a sentence but avoids the risk and expense of going to trial. In many plea deals, the accused also pledges to cooperate with prosecutors in an ongoing investigation.
In the federal corruption probe that has ensnared Huizar, four people who have agreed to plead guilty are also cooperating with prosecutors, including former councilmember Mitchell Englander, former Huizar aide George Esparza, real estate developer George Chiang and political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim.
Is Huizar also cutting a deal? Does he have information that prosecutors want? Or is he heading to trial? It would not be unusual for Huizar’s arraignment on August 3 to be delayed again, so it could be some time before the public begins to get answers to those questions.
But one thing is known: If found guilty of the crimes he is accused of, Huizar could be sent to prison for the rest of his life. The racketeering, fraud and money laundering charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The charges of bribery, lying, tax evasion could add decades more.