Huízar scholarship ceremony at Nov. 2016 East LA Classic. Photo ffrom José Huízar Twitter.

Some Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles students who won scholarships from disgraced city councilmember José Huízar did not get the full amounts of their awards, and several had to overcome challenges to access the funds, an investigation by LA Taco found.

The investigation looked into 14 graduates from Roosevelt and Garfield high schools who were awarded $500 and $1,000 gifts by the José Huízar Excellence in Education Scholarship between 2011 and 2018. 

Huízar –who is facing federal bribery and racketeering charges related to a pay-and-play scheme at City Hall– usually announced the scholarship winners during halftime of the schools’ annual homecoming game, known popularly as the East LA Classic.

In only four of the cases reviewed, graduates received their full scholarship amounts immediately and without roadblocks. 

According to the LA Taco story published Friday, some students said “they only got a portion of the money, while others had to fight for months to get the total amount.” 

The story focuses on Sarai Garcia, a 2017 Roosevelt graduate who received a giant $1,000 check facsimile at the November 2016 game and who ended up only getting $500 in October 2018, after multiple phone calls, emails and visits to Huízar’s office in Boyle Heights.

García said that not receiving the money immediately after graduation created a financial hardship for her Boyle Heights family and deflated her admiration of Huízar.

My family is pretty upset. I think they’re more upset than me. It’s like a bad representation of our community and our culture.”

Sarai Garcia

Among other revelations in the story:

  • In 2016, Huizar’s Boyle Heights deputy Rocío Hernández realized that the councilmember;s office still owed $500 to a student who’d received the scholarship five years earlier, in 2011. 
  • According to emails reviewed by LA Taco, $5,000 in scholarship funds were  “incorrectly diverted” In November 2016 to Marcos Garcia, a Christian youth sports camp coach. The payment to Garcia was approved by former Huízar aide George Esparza. Last year Esparza agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering charge related to the FBI’s investigation into City Hall corruption.

LA Taco said it received a tip about the scholarships after the release of the podcast Smoke Screen: The Sellout which looked at how Huízar used the Boyle Heights community’s trust to rise to power, and how he allegedly betrayed that trust by favoring big development in his district. 

“The Sellout” was a collaboration between LA Taco, a grassroots media organization, and Neon Hum.

Education, ‘key to my success’

In 2017, two years after joining the City Council, Huízar was inducted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Alumni Hall of Fame and honored with the organization’s “Optimista,” (the Optimist) award for his “success achieved through persistence in the face of adversity.”

In a press release announcing the induction, he said that lack of funds was driving Hispanic students to drop out from college, and that he aimed to change that:

“Education was the key to my success and I figured the best thing that I could do to give back to my community was to open the doors of higher education to as many young people as I could. I wanted to create policies that would provide the thousands of students of LAUSD real educational opportunities that would allow them to go to college. I think I have accomplished that.”

José Huízar

In June of 2020, Huízar was arrested at his Boyle Heights home following a six-year federal probe into City Hall corruption. A month later, in a 34-count indictment, he was accused of accepting $1.5 million in bribes from real estate developers in exchange for support of downtown building projects.

A trial date for Huízar is now set for February 21.

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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