Former Los Angeles councilman Jose Huizar, accused of taking $1.5 million in bribes from real estate developers in a City Hall corruption scheme, has lost his bid for a separate trial from his co-defendant.
U.S. District Judge John Walter denied the motion for solo trial, leaving in place the Feb. 21 trial date for Huizar and former deputy mayor Raymond Chan, one-time head of the city’s Building and Safety Department, City News Service reported in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Huizar contended he and Chan should be granted separate trials, despite missing the deadline to file such a motion.
He argued Chan’s attorney had indicated his strategy would include acting as a “second prosecutor,” including telling the jury that his client was innocent and had been swept up in the prosecution’s theory of Huizar’s guilt.
Harland Braun, Chan’s attorney, said in a declaration in support of Huizar’s motion that he intends to argue before the jury that Huizar is guilty and Chan is not guilty “by comparing and contrasting their conduct as criminal and noncriminal, respectively.”
Huizar claimed that a severance was appropriate because Chan’s purported “antagonistic defense” would prevent the ex-councilman from getting a fair trial.
The judge’s order, however, said Huizar had “failed to meet his heavy burden” of demonstrating that Braun’s strategy is so prejudicial that a jury’s acceptance of Chan’s theory would preclude Huizar’s acquittal.
Walter also noted that since Huizar’s attorneys had failed to identify their own defense plans for the court, “it is difficult, if not impossible, for the court to conclude that Chan’s defense is irreconcilable” with Huizar’s own courtroom strategy.
The wide-ranging corruption scandal has reverberated from City Hall to the boardrooms of real estate developers.
Federal prosecutors have so far convicted nine defendants and received more than $3 million in criminal penalties to resolve the federal probe into two major real estate development companies as part of Operation “Casino Loyale,” the federal investigation into City Hall corruption conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Huizar and Chan are charged with dozens of federal counts, including racketeering.
Huizar is named as the central player in the alleged City Hall corruption scheme in which prosecutors say he took more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for his support of a planned hotel project in Downtown Los Angeles.
The judge originally divided the 34-count indictment against Huizar and his associates into three trials.
In the two trials to date, real estate development company Shen Zhen New World I was found guilty of paying Huizar $1 million in bribes to obtain city approval to build a 77-story skyscraper.
In the first Huizar-related trial, a federal jury found Bel-Air developer David Lee and 940 Hill, a Lee-controlled company, guilty of felony charges, including fraud and bribery, for providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal of their Downtown development project.
During the Shen Zhen trial, Huizar’s 83-year-old mother, his older brother and his estranged wife testified for the prosecution.
Chan, a deputy mayor who oversaw economic development for former mayor Eric Garcetti in 2016 and 2017, is accused along with Huizar of shaking down developers.
As part of his roles on the City Council, Huizar was chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, commonly known as the PLUM Committee, which oversaw major commercial and residential development projects.
— Dana Bartholomew