Former L.A. City Council member draws 13-year federal prison sentence

Former Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar was handed a 13-year prison sentence by a federal judge on Friday following his conviction in a corruption case. Photo by Charlie Kaijo/Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A former Los Angeles City Council member has drawn a 13-year federal prison sentence in connection with a $1.5 million high-profile corruption case.

Defense lawyers for former council member Jose Huizar had asked for nine years in prison, but U.S. District Judge John Walter disagreed, stating during a sentencing hearing on Friday that the 55-year-old "made a business of his public office at the expense of the citizens of Los Angeles," City News Service reported.

Huizar, who represented the city's Council District 14, pleaded guilty to charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Authorities contend he coerced at least $1.5 million from developers in exchange for pushing their real estate projects through the city's development approval process.

"No one is above the law," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement after the 156-month prison sentence was handed down.

"Today's sentence shows that even a powerful elected official like Huizar will be held accountable for engaging in criminal misconduct. Huizar was elected to serve the interests of the hard-working people of Los Angeles, but he instead served his own personal interests in a long-running, pay-to-play, bribery scheme. Our community deserves better."

As part of the sentence, Huizar owes the city of Los Angeles $443,905 in restitution. He also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and is required to pay $38,792 to the IRS.

Huizar, who began his political career as a Los Angeles Unified School District board member, has until April 30 to surrender to federal officials and begin serving his sentence. He initially pleaded guilty to the charges earlier in January, following a year-long investigation by the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office.

The first Mexican immigrant ever elected to the Los Angeles City Council, Huizar spoke briefly on the courthouse steps following Friday's hearing.

"I'd like to think I made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people in my district and the city as a whole," Huizar told KNBC in a brief interview.

"It's hard. It's something that no one would want to go through and I never imagined myself going through something like this. Nobody does. When you're involved in high-stakes games and politics, you don't imagine to be in this situation but unfortunately I am."