A federal judge Wednesday set a June 22 trial date for suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar on corruption charges, and prosecutors indicated that additional defendants and charges are possible in the City Hall development scandal.
Lawyers for both sides recommended the continuance from the tentative Sept. 29 trial date due to the voluminous amount of evidence and the fact that the government anticipates the grand jury will “consider adding additional charges and additional defendants in a superseding indictment,” according to documents filed Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court.
U.S. District Judge John Walter wrote in his order granting the new date that the Huizar case is “so unusual and so complex, due to the nature of the prosecution” that additional preparation time was needed.
On Monday, the government presented to Huizar’s defense team 83,311 pages of written reports, e-mails, electronic monitoring logs, and over 93,000 files of intercepted wire sessions, including audio and data files. Federal prosecutors said they expect that total discovery will include 100,000 documents and over 260 hours of audio recordings.
Huizar has pleaded not guilty to charges contained in a 34-count, 113-page indictment, alleging he ran a pay-to-play scheme in which developers were shaken down for cash bribes and campaign donations in exchange for his support of downtown-area development projects.
The indictment alleges more than 400 overt acts, including bribery, honest services fraud and money laundering, which the city councilman and co-defendants are accused of committing to further their criminal enterprise.
It is not known when additional defendants might be announced.
It was previously estimated that the government’s case against Huizar, including cross examination, would last up to 20 trial days and involve between 40 and 45 witnesses. The new filing states that at this stage, the defense cannot anticipate the duration of its case.
If additional defendants are added, prosecutors anticipate “a unified trial date for all defendants in order to conserve court and party resources,” prosecutors wrote.
If convicted as charged, Huizar, 51, of Boyle Heights, would face more than 100 years behind bars.
Huizar, the central figure in the five-year City Hall corruption probe, is accused of accepting at least $1.5 million in bribes from developers in exchange for his support of downtown building projects. He was suspended from the council following his arrest in June.
The councilman had represented downtown and the Eastside since 2005 and for several years was also the chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, the powerful panel that reviews the city’s biggest development projects. He was stripped of all his committee assignments in November 2018, following FBI searches of his home and offices, and had scaled back his legislative activity before his suspension. His bi-weekly salary payments of $8,192.85 were terminated last month and his term ends in December.
During the search of his home, agents allegedly seized $129,000 in cash that was stashed in Huizar’s closet and which, according to the indictment, he received from a Chinese billionaire and another businessperson seeking favors from him.
The indictment alleges that Huizar operated the scheme along with former aide George Esparza, real estate consultant George Chiang, and political fundraiser Justin Kim. An unnamed former deputy mayor was also allegedly involved in the scheme, according to prosecutors.
Huizar is the fifth person to be charged in the ongoing corruption investigation of Los Angeles City Hall being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Four other people have already pleaded guilty.
Esparza, Chiang and Kim — who are all cooperating with the investigation — are scheduled to be sentenced by Walter in February.
In a separate case not tied to Huizar, former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander pleaded guilty July 7 to a single felony charge of scheming to falsify material facts, admitting he helped prevent federal investigators from learning about cash and other perks he received from a Southern California businessman.
Englander was not accused in Huizar’s case, nor with any actions taken in his official capacity as a city councilman. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7, also before Walter.