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Former LA Councilman Huizar seeks to gut corruption case, says alleged $1.5 million in gifts were not bribes

Michael Finnegan and David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Attorneys for Jose Huizar readily admit that many of the allegations made against the former Los Angeles city councilman in a wide-ranging corruption case are “distasteful.”

Federal prosecutors have accused him of traveling on private jets, staying at luxury hotels, gambling at casinos in Las Vegas and Australia and consorting with prostitutes — all paid for by businessmen seeking to profit from the real estate boom that was transforming his downtown district.

But in a recent court filing, Huizar’s lawyers argued that many of the steps he is accused of taking to help those businessmen, such as setting up meetings and recommending consultants, were too informal to qualify as the type of “official acts” that meet the definition of bribery under federal law.

His lawyers are calling on a judge to dismiss most of the charges, saying prosecutors have failed to meet strict standards set by the Supreme Court for public corruption cases.

The filing is Huizar’s most detailed defense yet against allegations that he ran a racketeering enterprise out of City Hall to enrich himself and his allies by shaking down developers. If U.S. District Judge John F. Walter grants his request to sharply scale back the 41-count indictment, it would effectively gut the prosecution’s case, leaving such charges as tax evasion and lying to the FBI.

So far, the federal corruption investigation has yielded guilty pleas from former City Councilman Mitchell Englander, former Huizar aide George Esparza, lobbyist Morrie Goldman, and real estate consultants Justin Kim and George Chiang.

 

Walter will hold a Nov. 15 hearing on the motion from Huizar and two co-defendants to dismiss much of the indictment.

Prosecutors have urged the judge to keep the charges intact.

Huizar “got greedy, got brazen, got sloppy, and got caught,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack E. Jenkins and other prosecutors wrote in court papers filed this month. The former councilman’s conduct, they said, fits squarely within what the Supreme Court has deemed “criminal conduct that threatens the integrity and viability of our democracy.”

But Huizar’s legal team noted that the Supreme Court has steadily narrowed the scope of U.S. bribery laws over the last three decades.

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