Suspended L.A. City Councilmember José Huizar leaves federal court in downtown Los Angeles. He appeared along with federal public defenders for a trial setting hearing on Aug. 4, 2020. (Libby Denkmann/LAist)

The federal bribery and racketeering trial of former councilmember José Huízar will  take place in February, following a judge’s decision last week to grant his defense team a delay.

City News Service reported on the delay after reviewing court papers on Friday.

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter had scheduled the trial in October for Huízar and his co-defendant, former deputy mayor Raymond Chan, but granted the defense teams a four-month continuance after they requested more preparation time.

The new trial date for Huízar and Chan is Feb. 21.

Previously, the judge had broken up the six-defendant indictment into three separate federal criminal trials. In January, lawyers for three of the four other defendants argued that their clients would not receive a fair trial because the evidence against Huízar would overshadow the evidence against the co-defendants.

Originally, a trial date for all defendants had been scheduled for May 24.

Huízar –a Boyle Heights native who represented the neighborhood from 2005 to 2020 as councilman for a district that includes most of downtown LA and several Eastside communities– is the central figure in a six-year federal probe of suspected corruption in City Hall. The case has already yielded guilty pleas from five suspects, including former councilmember Mitchell Englander and former Huízar aide George Esparza.

Huízar, who presided over the council’s powerful planning committee, is accused of receiving $1.5 million in bribes as part of a pay-to-play scheme in which developers were asked for cash and campaign donations in exchange for help in getting major downtown development projects approved. Huízar’s lawyers deny the allegations against the former councilman.

The other defendants and trial dates:

  • Trial is expected June 14 for developer Dae Young Lee and one of his companies, 940 Hill. They face federal bribery, fraud and obstruction charges, allegedly linked to Huízar’s scheme. Lee’s lawyers say he had been seeking to develop a 20-story residential building in Huízar’s district and was unaware of allegations surrounding other real estate projects in the case and knew nothing of the purported pay-to-play scheme.
  • An Oct. 18 trial date is scheduled for Chinese billionaire developer Wei Huang and his company Shen Zhen New World, which acquired the Grand Hotel in downtown LA in 2011. Prosecutors allege Huang and his company planned to redevelop the property into a 77-floor tower in a quid pro quo arrangement with Huízar. The billionaire developer is a fugitive believed to be in China and has not appeared for a single court date.

Huízar and Chan face racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and other counts. 

Earlier this year, Walker rejected a motion by lawyers for Huízar and two other defendants to dismiss 30 of the 41 counts in the indictment.

In January, the Los Angeles Times reported that Huízar’s legal team defended his handling of real estate decisions and described him as “an evangelist for robust development” in the district he represented. 

In court papers reviewed by the newspaper, attorneys said Huízar saw it as his responsibility to bring hotels, apartments, jobs and tourism to downtown.

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Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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