By FRED SHUSTER | City news service
LOS ANGELES — A federal judge on Monday, Jan. 31, rejected an offer by Jose Huizar to suppress evidence that the former Los Angeles councilman was removed from a Las Vegas casino after he refused to identify the source of tens of thousands of dollars in gambling money he used when he was identified as an elected city official.
During a lengthy hearing to discuss pending motions, U.S. District Judge John Walter dismissed Huizar’s attorney’s efforts to show that an affidavit to obtain a search warrant led to the seizure of more than three years of Huizar’s emails and other documents led, too broad and otherwise flawed. It was one of several defense motions denied by the judge.
In addition, Walter indicated that he wanted to extend the trial date against Huizar from May to October 18. Depending on the judge’s ruling on the settlement, trials for certain co-defendants could take place earlier.
Noting that the affidavit discussed in the first motion indicated “a fair likelihood of Huizar’s corrupt intent,” the judge ruled that “it was more than reasonable to seek the evidence in the subject’s email accounts.” . The results would be appreciated, Walter concluded.
The judge cited an FBI special agent’s 36-page affidavit, which contains evidence from a variety of sources – including multiple witnesses, hotel and casino records, flight records – showing that Huizar made eight gambling trips between 2014 and 2016 Las Vegas with a billionaire Chinese developer who is said to have businesses in his community.
Huizar, the central figure in a six-year investigation into alleged corruption in city hall politics, and his associates were allegedly involved in a $1.5 million pay-to-play scheme, shaking off real estate developers in exchange for cash and campaign donations for help to get construction projects through the city’s permitting process.
Defense attorneys allege that Huizar’s only crime was acting as a “robust development evangelist,” whose job as a representative of Council District 14 was to bring hotels, housing, jobs, tourism and entertainment to the city center, according to court documents.
Huizar prosecutor Charles Snyder alleged that there were errors in the government records used to obtain the primary search warrant and asked Walter to set up a special hearing to determine if the agent lied in the affidavit . The judge denied the request.
Huizar, who represented downtown LA and was chairman of the planning and land use management committee, has denied all allegations.
The affidavit said that during the former councilman’s fifth trip with co-defendant Wei Huang, the president of a global development company headquartered in China, to the Casino Palazzo, “suspicious activity between the two was discovered and evidence of the suspicious activity was presented to the FBI.”
The evidence included surveillance footage of Huizar playing with Huang and two other co-defendants at a “high-end gambling parlor reserved for high rollers,” according to the affidavit, and sharing Huang’s casino chips.
In addition, game records show that Huizar played and ultimately cashed in tens of thousands of dollars in chips he did not purchase, and hotel records show that the developer gave Huizar private jet transportation and luxury accommodations, prosecutors allege.
The documents contain references to the observations of Palazzo employees, some of whom described their interactions with Huizar when they confronted him and asked him to sign documents certifying that as an elected official and “politically exposed person” he was a ” Independents” had source of wealth sufficient to show he gambled with his own money.”
Huizar refused to sign the documents, giving the impression he was trying to “stay under the radar” and was escorted out of the gaming area for failing to provide information “to allay the casino’s suspicions, that he was engaged in corrupt activities,” the prosecutor claims.
According to a witness cited in court documents, he left more than $14,000 in chips on the table, which Huang then continued to play with.
In addition to the Palazzo trips — which ended the affidavits after hotel compliance staff identified Huizar and asked him to confirm the source of his gambling money — prosecutors allege Huizar took Huang on three consecutive gambling trips to different Las Vegas casinos accompanied.
According to the government, Huizar also allegedly used his mother’s and brother’s bank accounts to launder bribes he received from Huang and another person.
Huizar’s lawyers argued that 39 months of personal emails held by the government as evidence in the bribery case against the ex-council leader should be suppressed because the seizure violated his constitutional rights.
Defense attorneys said that in July 2016, as part of the early days of the bribery investigation, the government requested and received a search warrant for Huizar’s personal emails, but the affidavit “lacked a probable cause” and provided no basis for obtaining the email. mails.
During the nearly four-hour hearing, Walter found no reason to suppress the affidavit or the evidence provided by the search warrants.
Huizar’s lawyers previously argued that the bribery case against the ex-council leader should be dropped because the alleged conduct does not violate laws cited in the federal racketeering indictment in 41 counts.
In the indictment, prosecutors confuse favors with bribes, consider First Amendment contributions a felony, and treat “virtually everything Huizar has done as an ‘official act’, no matter how informal or detached from government authority,” according to a defense filing .
The federal investigation seduced lobbyists, developers like Huang, and political activists including former city official Raymond Chan. Chan was formerly the director general of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and more recently the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.
The defense argues that Huizar and Chan saw it as their responsibility to bring development and business to downtown Los Angeles. Thanks to her work, “the region has become a livable and attractive destination for locals and tourists. During that time, almost everyone in Los Angeles was talking or hearing about how much downtown had improved.”
Co-defendants George Esparza, Huizar’s former special assistant, real estate development consultant George Chiang and fundraiser Justin Kim each pleaded guilty in 2020.