BY ROBERT GARROVA/LAist
Originally published on June 25, 2020
Los Angeles City Councilman José Huízar was arrested by the FBI Tuesday on a federal racketeering charge. The arrest is part of a years-long, ongoing investigation into City Hall corruption.
On Wednesday, we spent the afternoon in Boyle Heights — it’s part of Huízar’s Council District 14 — and also where Huízar lives and grew up. Locals had mixed feelings about the news.
Emmanuel Deleage owns Casa Fina restaurant, just across the street from Mariachi Plaza.
“He tried to really uplift what was sort of homegrown from this community,” Deleage said. “I think he went to Salesian High School… So, too bad.”
Deleage said he recalled Huízar and his office being actively involved in the community, including knocking on people’s doors to let them know about their rights when it came to rent increases and other housing issues.
“I think he was trying to do everything he could to mitigate the harms of gentrification,” Deleage said.
Others had very different feelings about Huízar, whose district also includes most of Downtown L.A. and parts of Northeast L.A., including Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, some of Highland Park, and Eagle Rock, and over the years has faced criticism from anti-gentrification activists.
Just a few steps away from the restaurant, Carmina Calderón was helping organize a fundraiser concert for mariachi musicians who are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve never trusted the fool,” Calderón said. “If people were trying to build anywhere, they had to go through him, and for sure he was in their pockets.”
The FBI is investigating a “pay-to-play” scheme in which Huízar and others are accused of taking bribes and other illicit perks from developers in exchange for green-lighting development projects.
According to a 172-page indictment, federal agents seized some $129,000 in cash from Huizar’s home during a raid in 2018 — wrapped in a t-shirt, stashed in red envelopes with Chinese characters, even stuffed in the pocket of one of his suits.
In a statement earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna described Huízar as running “a money-making criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles.”
Huízar’s attorneys, Mary Carter Andrues and Vicki Podberesky, told LAist this week that he “intends to respond to the government’s allegations in court.”
On Tuesday, the city council voted 14-0 to suspend Huizar, although he can’t be officially removed from his position unless he pleads or is found guilty. Some colleagues called for his resignation.
Daisy Zuno, who works in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, voiced similar disappointment.
“A lot of the people that live in Boyle Heights, they’re very upset,” Zuno said. “They are concerned if he is doing wrong things, because the city needs a lot of things [like] repairs.”
But in spite of the highly publicized allegations, just outside Huízar’s field office on First Street, Boyle Heights resident Kareli Vásquez was surprised to hear that he’d been arrested — and she was skeptical.
“It’s very sad,” Vásquez said. “He comes from a decent family, so I don’t think he actually committed all those crimes.”
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2020 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.