An aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar has filed a $10 million legal claim against the city, alleging the councilman retaliated against him after he spoke with federal investigators about possible criminal activity involving his boss, it was reported Tuesday.
Huizar staffer Jesse Leon said in his claim that he received a termination letter after he talked to federal law enforcement officials about his suspicion that Huizar had attempted to “extort money or solicit bribes from operators of cannabis businesses,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Leon, 40, accused Huizar and Paul Habib, the councilman’s chief of staff, of violating federal antidiscrimination and whistleblower protection laws, according to the two-page claim filed with the city clerk’s office. The claim says Leon was put on administrative leave on Aug. 9 and was issued a termination letter a month later saying his last day would be Oct. 31.
“Huizar’s and Habib’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, and caused Leon severe emotional distress,” the claim says.
Huizar called the allegations of retaliation “absolutely false,” saying Leon had come under scrutiny for ethical reasons. The city’s lawyers concluded last summer that Leon had attempted to secure a cannabis license while also serving as the Huizar’s policy adviser on cannabis regulations — a financial conflict of interest, the councilman said.
“Jesse was, in fact, intimately involved in creating the ordinance for the program for which he and his wife applied,” Huizar said in an emailed statement to The Times. “After a discussion with Jesse, we concluded that he failed to provide truthful accounts of his actions.”
Leon filed his claim in September, after he had been confronted with conflict of interest questions, Huizar said.
“This is an obvious attempt by Jesse to deflect from his unethical behavior,” he said.
At City Hall, submitting a claim is a step that frequently leads to the filing of a lawsuit.
Leon has been earning more than $101,000 annually as a council aide, according to a spokesman for the city’s personnel department, and is still on the payroll, city officials said.
Leon submitted an application to the Department of Cannabis Regulation to be vetted as a “social equity” applicant, a key step in becoming eligible to apply for the latest round of licensing, according to agency records. The social equity program aims to assist marijuana entrepreneurs from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Leon did not ultimately file an application to run a cannabis business, according to department records.
The dispute between Huizar and his aide comes roughly a year after FBI agents raided Huizar’s home and offices.