Cash, casino chips, hotel rooms and an affair: Inside the Jose Huizar indictment

Emily Alpert Reyes, David Zahniser
Prosecutors say they recovered cash in red envelopes with Chinese characters when authorities raided Jose Huizar's residence in 2018.  (U.S. Attorney's Office)

The arrest of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar marks the biggest domino to fall in a multiyear federal investigation of corruption and alleged pay-to-play practices at City Hall. If convicted, Huizar could face up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many of the allegations laid out by federal prosecutors on Tuesday have been described in previous court filings. But there are some new and noteworthy allegations, including:

1. Massages, hotel stays and an affair. Prosecutors have already alleged that Councilman Huizar took cash, casino chips and other bribes from developers with business in his district. But the newest filing says that one businessman also provided Huizar with hotel stays that allowed the councilman to conduct "discreet encounters with a woman with whom he was having an affair." The same businessman also paid for Huizar to receive "massage services" on a number of occasions, which ran $300 per visit, prosecutors said in their filing.

2. Opposition research from a developer. One real estate developer provided Huizar with opposition research on two of his former staffers who were suing him for harassment, according to prosecutors. The developer, who was seeking to build a 35-story project in L.A.'s Arts District, later boasted in an email that the city had required "minimal" affordable housing compared to other local projects, the filing stated. Tuesday marks the first time an Arts District project has been mentioned in the corruption probe.

3. Cash in a closet. Federal prosecutors have now revealed at least some of what they found when FBI agents raided Huizar's home in Boyle Heights nearly two years ago: Nearly $130,000 in cash hidden in a closet, according to the filing. Photographs in the federal affidavit show cash in the pocket of his suit jacket, concealed in large envelopes and wrapped in a T-shirt, as well as money tucked into red envelopes with Chinese characters.

4. Money funneled through family. Investigators also allege that Huizar hid money that he received as part of the pay-to-play scheme by funneling cash through his family members to deposit into their accounts, which they then used to pay his credit card bills and other expenses. Two of his relatives had initially denied that Huizar gave them cash, before admitting to it earlier this year, according to prosecutors.

5. The investigation is not over. Speaking to reporters, federal investigators repeatedly emphasized that the pay-to-play probe is "ongoing" — and that they want members of the public to contact the FBI with any information at their email hotline: pctips-losangeles@fbi.gov. "We intend to bring to justice everyone who was involved in the criminal activity," said U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna.

Beyond that, however, things are murky. Hanna declined to say whether prosecutors would seek criminal charges against any of the real estate developers who figure into the case, or whether any other council members are under investigation.

He also would not say how Richelle Huizar, the councilman's wife, figures into the case.