Eighteen months after his home and offices were searched by the FBI as part of a public corruption probe, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar hasn’t been charged with a crime, but the council’s president is looking to bar him from meetings and casting votes.
An aide for Council President Nury Martinez confirmed to City News Service Friday that a letter was sent to Huizar asking him not to attend council meetings or take any legislative actions.
A representative for Huizar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board broke the news in an editorial posted early Friday morning, reporting that Martinez had moved on Thursday to suspend Huizar from the council, “which would block him from attending meetings or voting on city matters.”
Whether Martinez has such authority is questionable. City Attorney Mike Feuer told reporters Friday morning that since Huizar has not been charged or convicted of a crime, there is little the council can do.
“If a council member is convicted or pleads guilty to an offense, then that council member is automatically removed from office,” Feuer said. “If the council member is indicted, then the council may move to suspend that council member.
“If that council member is neither convicted nor indicted, the remaining tool that the City Council has is to impose a censure on that council member under the city charter,” he said.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced a plea agreement with real estate development consultant George Chiang, who is expected to admit his role in a “pay-to-play” bribery scheme involving an unnamed City Council member with the goal of advancing large-scale development projects.
Prosecutors allege the scheme was led by a member of the City Council and involved people engaged in bribery and honest services fraud designed to enrich themselves, to conceal their activities from authorities and the public, and to maintain and advance their political power.
According to prosecutors, the public officials involved in the scheme received cash; consulting and retainer fees; political contributions; tickets to concerts, shows, and sporting events; and other gifts in exchange for affecting the success of development projects.
The council member involved in the case was not named by prosecutors, but details and circumstances revealed in court documents point to Huizar.
In March, political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim agreed to plead guilty to a single count of federal program bribery for facilitating a $500,000 cash payment to an unnamed council member. The council member in Kim’s case was also not identified, but details in court papers also pointed to Huizar.
In November 2018, federal agents served search warrants at Huizar’s City Hall and field offices, along with his home, as part of the corruption probe. Huizar was chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee at the time. Huizar was never arrested or charged with a crime.
His wife, Richelle, had been campaigning to fill her husband’s council seat when his term expires this year, but she dropped out of the race following the FBI raids.
Following the FBI searches, then-Council President Herb Wesson removed Huizar from all of his committee assignments, including his post as chair of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
Separately, former Councilman Mitchell Englander agreed in March to plead guilty to engaging in a scheme to deceive the FBI, related to his cover up of cash payments and other gifts offered by a Los Angeles businessperson. Prosecutors accused Englander of lying to the FBI during a probe of his alleged acceptance of cash, female escort services, hotel rooms and meals from a businessman during trips to Las Vegas and Cabazon.
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