A guide to recent the Los Angeles City Hall scandals

The recent leak of a recording exposing some of Los Angeles’ top officials making vile racist comments and disparaging multiple racial and ethnic groups has rocked the City of Angels.

But City Hall is no stranger to scandal — many elected leaders and officials are still dealing with the fallout from previous missteps, including three current or former council members who have been charged with federal crimes.

For anyone new to the chaos of LA politics, here’s a quick refresher on some of the most memorable — or perhaps infamous — scandals in recent history. Buckle up.

Gil Cedillo, from left, Nury Martinez and Kevin de León

(Photos: Carolyn Cole, Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

The racist leaked audio

The Los Angeles political world was stirred this week by audio from a 2021 closed-door meeting among some of the city’s most powerful Latino leaders to discuss the city’s redistribution process. Many have since raised concerns about their discussion of how to expand their political power amid a contentious reallocation process, but it’s the racist comments the group flippantly shared that sparked an onslaught of outrage and condemnation from Angelenos all the way to the White House to have.

In the clip, the president of the city council at the time Nuri Martinez denigrated the black son of a white council member, using a Spanish expression meaning “looks like a monkey” and suggested that the child must be beaten to make him behave. She said the councilor treated his son like an “accessory” and councilor Kevin deLeon he later appeared to compare the councilor’s handling of his child to Martinez holding a Louis Vuitton handbag. The conversation also included a council member Gil Cedillo and Ron Herrera, then President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

In the same conversation, Martinez can also be heard making bigoted and crude remarks about Oaxacans, Jews and Armenians.

While calls for council members to resign have been swift and loud, De León and Cedillo remain in their seats. Martinez finally resigned on Wednesday

Herrera resigned Monday night.

After the bombshell was released, the California Attorney General said his office would open an investigation into the city’s new district process, which last year redrawn the lines for the 15-seat city council.

Mark Ridley-Thomas

(Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The USC Kickback Program

One of Los Angeles’ most prominent political figures, suspended city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomaswas indicted last year along with a former USC dean on federal charges of accepting bribes from the dean in exchange for funneling millions in public funds to the university.

Prosecutors say the kickback program took place when Ridley-Thomas sat on the LA County Board of Supervisors in 2017 before joining the city council — from which he was later suspended. He has pleaded not guilty to the case, which is still ongoing.

Marilyn Louise Flynn, the former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, recently struck a plea deal admitting to the bribery case. She said she agreed to funnel money from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign through the university to his son’s charitable organization in order to hide the origin of the funds. In return, she said Ridley-Thomas agreed to secure renewal of an LA County contract for USC’s online psychiatric facility. The alleged consideration also included admitting Ridley-Thomas’ son to the university on a full scholarship and a salaried professorship.

Mayor Eric Garcetti

(Photo: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

allegations by the mayor

In 2020, a Los Angeles police officer who served as a bodyguard for the mayor Eric Garcetti sued the city alleging repeated sexual harassment by one of the mayor’s top aides. The lawsuit alleges that Garcetti witnessed some of the inappropriate behavior, including rude comments and unwanted touching, but did not intervene. The mayor denies the allegations.

Months later, Garcetti’s chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, resigned from her post after The Times reported that she belittled labor icon Dolores Huerta in a private Facebook group. Guerrero made comments on the social media platform saying “I hate her,” using a Spanish term that translates to “jealous old lady.”

Guerrero was placed on unpaid leave from Garcetti’s office after the incident broke in June 2021, although she recently returned as a top adviser.

The incident, along with the allegations against Jacobs, put his office’s work culture to the test.

Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander

(Photos: Walt Mancini/The Orange County Register via AP; Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

“Pay to Play” Scheme

A sprawling federal corruption investigation into possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes has landed a former council member in prison and another is still fighting him.

Former City Council Member Mitchell Englander was sentenced to 14 months in prison in 2021 after being convicted of lying to federal authorities about his dealings with a businessman that got him $15,000 in secret cash payments and a licentious night out in Las Vegas.

However, Englander’s case is part of a larger investigation into an alleged “pay-to-play” scheme that has focused on former councillors Jose Huizar. It first gained public attention in 2018 when FBI agents raided the then-councillor’s home and office.

Huizar was later arrested and faces federal charges over allegations that he repeatedly accepted bribes and campaign contributions from real estate developers to help him get development projects through the city’s arduous permitting process. He has pleaded not guilty.

Huizar’s former special assistant, George Esparza, his older brother, a lobbyist and two real estate consultants have already pleaded guilty to federal crimes in the alleged scheme. Esparza admitted receiving lavish perks — travel to Vegas and Australia, expensive meals and escort services — from a developer who wanted to build a 77-story skyscraper while accepting $8,000 to $10,000 a month from the businessman, who supplied England with cash. Salvador Huizar, the councilor’s brother, admitted this week that he received envelopes of cash from his brother, who told him to write checks for the same amount from his own bank account.

Also charged in the conspiracy is Raymond Chan, a former deputy mayor of Garcetti who focused on economic development. He is accused of a range of illegal activities, including organizing “indirect bribe payments” to key city officials by securing employment contracts for the officials’ relatives, prosecutors allege.

Businesses of LA Water and Power executives

At least two officials from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy, a former senior prosecutor’s attorney. Mike Feuers The bureau and a city-hired attorney have been indicted in another federal investigation, in which prosecutors say DWP officials and city attorneys participated in various crimes, including aiding and abetting racketeering and bribery.

Feuer said he was not aware of any unethical or illegal behavior by his attorneys and was quick to condemn such actions after the scheme was uncovered.

Thomas Peters, Feuer’s former head of civil litigation, admitted in a plea deal earlier this year that he orchestrated a payout to someone who threatened to reveal damaging information about how city attorneys were investigating a DWP misstatement lawsuit treated. Prosecutors said the city’s legal team worked with the attorneys representing DWP taxpayers.

Former DWP top executive David Wright participated in a related program, overseeing a $30 million DWP contract with an outside company in exchange for Wright being offered a post at the company after his retirement at a salary of $1 promised a million dollars and access to a Mercedes-Benz.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, Joe Buscaino Mitch Englander, Nury Martinez, Jose Huizar and Gil Cedillo

(Photos by: Mel Melcon, Gary Coronado, Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Illegal developer donations

More than seven local politicians, mostly from City Hall, received donations from a Torrance-based developer who was lobbying officials for approval of a new apartment complex. The developer was later convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering during the election campaign.

A 2016 Times investigation found that a sprawling network of more than 100 people and companies with direct or indirect ties to developer Samuel Leung made political donations totaling more than $600,000 to the seven politicians over six years while reviewing Leung’s development. The apartment complex was later approved.

These donations became the subject of a joint investigation by the prosecutor’s office, the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office and the Ethics Committee, which found that donations to the politicians often came from unlikely sources, some of whom said were unaware of the donations made and their names – Violation of the Campaign Finance Act.

Records show mayors Garcetticurrent and former council members Joe Buscaino, Englishman, Martinez, Huizar and cedilloand County Supervisor Janice Hahn, all received significant Leung-related donations, sometimes receiving the money when they were ready to make important development decisions.

Leung pleaded guilty in 2020. No elected officials have been charged in the case.

Nuri Martinez

(Photo: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Feds and County examined campaign contributions

Former Council President MartinezThe 2015 re-election campaign was the target of both a state and local investigation, although she and her associates were never criminally charged.

Federal prosecutors began investigating Martinez’s campaign in 2015, issuing subpoenas for many of their associates and later interviewing donors who made small donations to support reelection.

These donors were key to Martinez’s campaign, demonstrating grassroots support that enabled her to qualify for a much larger pool of taxpayer-funded matching dollars. LA Attorney’s Office officials also focused on these smaller donations and were investigating an allegation of fraud.

Although the District Attorney’s Department of Public Integrity found “that some of the $5 donations did not originate from the alleged donor,” investigators said, “there was insufficient evidence to prove who was ultimately responsible.”

Times contributors Dakota Smith, Emily Alpert Reyes, David Zahniser, Benjamin Oreskes, Julia Wick, Michael Finnegan, Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan, and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-14/a-guide-to-los-angeles-city-council-scandals A guide to recent the Los Angeles City Hall scandals

Alley Einstein

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