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Councilman Curren

Price arraigned

LOS ANGELES (CNS)—Several clergy groups and community organizations showed their support for Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price as he was arraigned on corruption charges.

Members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, Experience Christian Ministries, South Central United and other groups gathered at the Criminal Courts Building in downtown LA, where Price pleaded

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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. Wikimedia Commons

Harsh prison term for ex-civic leader Huizar

By FRED SHUSTER
City News Service


LOS ANGELES (CNS)—Disgraced former LA City Councilman José Huizar was sentenced Friday, Jan. 26 to 13 years in federal prison for using his powerful position at City Hall to shake own real estate developers for at least $1.5 million in cash and benefits in exchange for help driving downtown real estate projects through the city's approval process, and for cheating on his taxes.


Huizar, 55, of Boyle Heights, "made a business of his public office at the expense of the citizens of Los Angeles," U.S. District Judge John Walter said from the bench before imposing sentence. Huizar sat stonily during the two-hour hearing in downtown Los Angeles, briefly addressing the court to apologize to his family and former constituents. He said he hoped others in public office would take heed of his current situation.
 

The judge gave Huizar until April 30 to begin serving his sentence.
 

Along with the prison term, Walter ordered restitution of $443,905 payable to the city of Los Angeles and the Internal Revenue Service, with $50,000 due immediately. Huizar must also serve three years of supervised release following prison.


The former councilman pleaded guilty a year ago to federal counts of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and tax evasion in a sprawling criminal probe that ensnared lobbyists, consult ants and other city officials and staffers, who sought to personally enrich themselves and their families and associates in exchange for official acts, authorities said.
 

Walter called Huizar, who represented Council District 14, which includes downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, "one of the most corrupt officials of the last several years." 

 

The judge added that Huizar yearned to "live the good life, as enjoyed by the wealthy devel-opers" he unlawfully did business with. Huizar represented the 14th District from 2005 until his resignation in 2020. According to his lawyers, Huizar was "for robust development" in efforts to ensure Los Angeles was befitting of a "world-class city."
 

In his plea agreement, Huizar admitted to leading the so-called CD-14 Enterprise, which operated as a pay-to-play scheme in which Huizar—assisted by others—illegally used his office to give favorable treatment to real estate developers who financed and facilitated cash bribes, campaign donations and other illicit benefits.
 

"For years, defendant operated his pay-to-play scheme in the city of Los Angeles to monetize his public position and leverage his political clout for over $1.5 million dollars in cash bribes, gambling chips, luxury trips, political contribu- tions, prostitutes, extravagant meals, services, concerts and other gifts," according to a memo filed by the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. "If anyone dared rebuff his call to pay bribes, he punished them and their city projects, threatening developers with indefinitely delayed projects and financial peril."
 

In his guilty plea, Huizar admitted accepting a $600,000 bribe payment in the form of a "loan" from China-based billionaire real estate developer Wei Huang for use to secretly settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit against Huizar by a former staffer.

Huizar addressed the judge briefly to apologize for his crimes. In a letter to the judge filed in court, he admitted that for a long time he was in denial and blamed his former aide and the FBI for his predicament. In the letter, Huizar said that he didn't fully realize what he was doing when he solicited and took bribes from developers to get their projects approved.

"I got lost in it," he said. "Shiny things were dangled in front of me and I could not resist the temptation. The money, the fancy dinners, luxury flights. It was there for the taking, and I was

not strong enough to say no."


Huang's downtown Los Angeles-based company was found guilty in 2022 of paying more than $1 million in bribes— including luxury trip expenses, casino gambling chips and the sham loan—to the then-councilman to obtain city approval to build a 77-story mixed-use skyscraper downtown. Huang, who owns a house in San Marino, was also charged in the case but is considered a fugitive believed to be in China, according to the US Attorney's Office.
 

Due to the scheme, development in the downtown area "is now tainted because of this defendant," Assistant US. Attorney Mack Jenkins told the court Friday.
 

Huizar's attorney, Charles Snyder, arguing for a nine-year sentence, told the court that his client grew up in poverty in rural Mexico, eventually earned a law degree from UCLA, and was elected to the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District and in 2005 to a seat on the LA City Council.
 

"What makes this case sad is the element of what could have been," Snyder said.
 

Defendants in the case include George Esparza, Huizar's former special assistant, real estate development consultant George Chiang, political fundraiser Justin Jangwoo Kim, and lobbyist Morrie Goldman, among others. Each pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation.
 

"Five years from now, the only people who will remember whether Mr. Huizar got 9, 10 or 13 years will be the parties and his family, the latter of whom will grow up, grow old and die in his absence," Huizar's attorneys wrote in court papers. "For everyone else, specific memories will fade, and even with a nine-year sentence, the lasting message will be that Mr. Huizar confessed and received a lengthy term in prison."


Huizar's co-defendant, former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, who was general manager of the Department of Building and Safety before becoming the city's deputy mayor of economic development, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and other counts for allegedly helping Huizar in the bribery scheme.
 

Chan's trial is set for Feb. 27. A mistrial was declared in his first trial after his attorney, Harland Braun, was taken ill and could not continue appearing in court.
 

In a related case, Huizar's brother, Salvador Huizar, 57, of Boyle Heights, pleaded guilty in October 2022 to lying to federal investigators about accepting cash from his brother on numerous occasions and immediately writing checks back to him or arranging to pay his expenses. Salvador Huizar's sentencing hearing is scheduled for August.

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Scuba for urban LA

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Entrepreneur Educational Center divers demonstrate rescue techniques, a critical part of scuba training.

New classes begin in February 

By DANIELLA MASTERSON, Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES—Shannon Brailey knows she’s swimming in new territory. The African American woman recently completed Entrepreneur Educational Center, Inc.’s (EECI) vocational training program that certified her as a scuba diver.


Now, she can pursue a career as a professional career in the "blue economy."


"My mother is living vicariously through me," joked Brailey, whose mother founded the program.

 

"You need tough skin because it is a male-dominated field. You don’t hear about a lot of Black women divers or Black women swimming. I’m doing the training for the culture. I’m doing it for the women who think they can’t push through fear.
 

"When I’m down there in the ocean, I’m at complete serenity and peace and become one with
nature,” Brailey added.

 

EECI provides its students with equipment and transportation to ocean sites. The program attracted a diverse group of men and women who were already at home with SoCal’s unique sand and surf but hadn’t realized they could turn their passion into a career.


"I’ve been in the EECI program for a few months," said Kalisto Hercules. "My passion for the ocean started in high school. I was on the swim team. I swam in relays. It was great. And then I started surfing. But [being] underneath the ocean is really great. I’m glad I got to be a part of this program."


According to Zippia.com, approximately 85 percent of all scuba divers are men. White scuba
divers make up 62 percent of the trade. Comparatively, 18.1 percent of scuba divers are Latino,
and 9.7 percent are African American.

EECI is a nonprofit that promotes education and empowerment, leveling the playing field in various vocations. By offering a free vocational training program—including equipment—to women, Latinos, and African American professionals in South Los Angeles County’s second and fourth districts, EECI is creating a pipeline of qualified minorities to fill jobs in the blue economy—rescue, underwater welding, and commercial diving at the Port of Los Angeles and for green companies such as AltaSea (www.altasea.org).


"The EECI Vocational Scuba Diving Training will enhance diversity in the maritime industries where minorities are underrepresented," said Barbara Stanton, founder and executive director of EECI. "We have been providing vocational training to minorities for over 30 years with an eye on untraditional industries for minority employment," adding, the program is such a success, it will resume in 2024.


Dive Master Specialist Gerald Durant facilitated the training. Durant is a member of the LA City Fire Department and president of the Los Angeles Stentorians, the Association of African Americans in the fire service.


"The Los Angeles City Stentorians collaboration with EECI has given me the opportunity to complete my social contract with my community," said Durant.
 

Those who recently completed training in open water diving and are now certified divers include: David Bland, Corbin Dane Pitts, Shannon Brailey, Keith Lesley, Rachel Rhee, Janice Hyllengren and Kalisto Hercules. The scuba divers dedicated 100 hours of instruction and training, including diving into the sea off the coast of Catalina.


The pilot program is scheduled to accept applications in January 2024. All training and

equipment is provided at no cost to students accepted into the program.

 

For more information, visit www.entrepreneureducationalcenter.org.

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