LA WATCHDOG--We always knew that City Hall was dirty: a rat-infested nest where money trumped our best interests, especially when it involved pay-to-play real estate developers. This fact was hammered home when the FBI raided the home and offices of Councilman Jose Huizar, the chair of the powerful, favor granting Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the City Council.
He also represented Downtown Los Angeles, another cash cow for Huizar where developers were given free rein to construct congestion-causing high-rise luxury apartments and condominiums.
The widely publicized raid was followed up by newspaper articles about the involvement of the IRS (always a bad sign) and the disclosure that others in City Hall were subject to a search warrant seeking evidence on “bribery, extortion and other possible crimes.” Targets included Councilman Curren Price, City Council President Herb Wesson’s chief of staff, a Deputy Mayor, and a Garcetti appointed member of the Board of Public Works who subsequently resigned in disgrace.
A recent article in The Times about The Luxe City Center Hotel and the nonpayment of bills for political fund raising activity by members of the City Council raised an interesting question about the role of City Council President Herb Wesson.
According to Aaron Lewis, Wesson’s high-priced white-collar defense attorney, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has confirmed that Council President Wesson is only a witness in its investigation.” This means he is not a “target” of the investigation.
Of course, this begs the question, “What does Herb know?”
Wesson and Huizar were close, as shown by this statement by Wesson in 2015 when he was defending Huizar against #MeToo allegations by his former chief of staff and mistress. "Mr. Huizar is like my brother, my best friend on the council. I trust him with my life. He does the same for me.”
So, it was very telling when Wesson stripped Huizar of all his committee assignments, including his role as Chairman of the PLUM Committee, within a week a of the November 7 raid.
There is also speculation that Wesson has flipped and is now a witness for the government, with the possibility of immunity for any past transgressions.
And then there is the question of who is paying for Covington & Burling Attorney Aaron Lewis who may charge as much as $1,000 an hour for his legal services and advice.
According to informed sources, the federal investigation has expanded to include the billboard industry where pay-to-play is a commonly accepted fact of life, whether it is through cash campaign contributions, extensive lobbying, or free advertising during political campaigns.
With billboards, a favorable ruling involving the placement of digital billboard by the City Planning Commission, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, and the City Council will result in tens of millions of dollars in incremental value. At the same time, a new digital billboard may result in significant light pollution for a neighborhood or an unsafe distraction to motorists, facts that often ignored by the Mayor and the City Council.
The extent and timing of the FBI’s investigation into charges of “bribery, extortion, and other possible crimes” involving City Hall and its pay-to-play culture are uncertain. And while our Mayor and City Council will protest their lack of knowledge of any wrong doing, remember the old saying: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)