A former aide to recently suspended City councilmember José Huízar pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a federal racketeering charge associated with a City Hall “pay-to-play” scheme.
George Esparza, 33, agreed via video conference to plea to a single count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statue, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Esparza, from Boyle Heights, had worked as a special assistant to Huízar for five years –starting in 2013 and until the councilmember’s home and offices were raided in the fall of 2018. The central figure in a five-year federal probe, Huízar is accused, among other charges, of accepting $1.5 million in bribes from real estate developers in exchange for support of a downtown building project.
Huízar was released on a $100,000 bond following his arrest last month and his arraignment, originally set for July 20, has been postponed until the end of the month
Esparza is the fourth person to agree to plead guilty to a federal felony related to the investigation.
Prosecutors say Esparza and the councilmember took bribes from the head of a major Chinese real estate company who provided over $1 million in exchange for support of the development of a 77-story skyscraper on Figueroa Street.
Esparza, who is cooperating with the investigation, told prosecutors the developer provided him and the councilmember with flights on private jets, gambling chips, expensive meals, prostitution/escort services and other perks during various trips to Las Vegas between 2014 and 2018.
According to the plea agreement, the former aide also admitted to having lied to special agents with the FBI during interviews in mid-2017 by stating he had no knowledge of any city official helping on a project in exchange for money, gifts or campaign contributions.
Until this year, Esparza worked as chief of staff for State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, who represents a portion of Boyle Heights and other Northeast LA neighborhoods. In February, he and Carrillo were reprimanded by the Assembly for inappropriate behavior.
The Los Angeles Times reported Esparza’s last day working for the Assembly was June 9.
Esparza’s sentencing is set for Feb. 8. He could face up to 20 years in federal prison, although he is expected to receive less time because of his cooperation in the case.