Corruption trial shines a spotlight on Los Angeles City Hall

The U.S. Department of Justice released a photograph of a Don Julio 1942 tequila box with the lid open, its gold lining shimmering above the contents of the box – ten thick stacks of bundled $100 bills.

The first trial resulting from the FBI’s investigation into public corruption at Los Angeles City Hall is underway.

According to prosecutors, former City Council member Jose Huizar ran a criminal enterprise in Council District 14. Last week, Huizar’s former political aide, George Esparza took the witness stand and testified for three hours in the trial of real estate developer Dae Yong “David” Lee, who has been charged with bribery, wire fraud and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors say he paid a $500,000 bribe to get Huizar’s support for city approval of a planned 20-story, 232-unit residential building on Olympic Blvd.

The city planning department had signed off on the project in July 2016, but weeks later a group that represents construction trade unions filed a challenge to the project. Lee needed help to get through the approval process.

Now we’ll play L.A.’s favorite game, “Is it Bribery or Extortion?!”

Esparza, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to a charge of racketeering conspiracy but has not yet been sentenced, described his work for Councilmember Huizar. “He would say, ‘OK, hit these guys up,’” Esparza testified, “‘Let’s see if they’re willing to play.’”

Esparza said Huizar kept a spreadsheet of projects in development with the names of their consultants and the “ask” for each for each one, and it was his job as the councilman’s “special assistant” to find the key person for each developer with a project in the district and then “hit these guys up” for political donations or other things of value.

“I was taught to be very clear on what the message was,” Esparza testified. “If you don’t help the …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News

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