Local Government
Political corruption again grabbing headlines in L.A.

Political corruption again grabbing headlines in L.A.

By Chris Reed.

After a brief lull in 2017, there’s now another embarrassing chapter in Los Angeles County’s emergence as an epicenter of American political corruption.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar has been stripped of all his council committee assignments after having his home and office raided by the FBI earlier this month. Law enforcement authorities have been tight-lipped about their probe so far, but speculation has focused on Huizar’s close relationships with developers and his now-former role as chair of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which reviews all large development projects that come before the City Council.

It’s the second time in six months that the city’s planning approval process has faced criminal scrutiny. In June, it was revealed that the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office was investigating the city Department of Building and Safety over allegations of “unauthorized purchases, falsified invoices and $24,900 in payments to a consulting company that did not exist,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Five members of the department’s technology office have resigned or retired, including the division’s chief, Giovani Dacumos, who was named in most of the allegations.

Huizar replaced Antonio Villaraigosa as the 14th District’s councilman in a 2005 special election after Villaraigosa became mayor. The district includes most of downtown Los Angeles as well as Boyle Heights, Highland Park and Eagle Rock.

The first Mexican immigrant elected to the City Council, Huizar has repeatedly won re-election easily. But his political standing has taken several hits this fall. Besides the FBI raid, two former staffers have sued him, saying they faced retaliation when complaining about Huizar favoring an aide he was allegedly having an affair with as well as requiring them to do personal favors like picking up his dry cleaning or moving his wife’s car so it wouldn’t be ticketed. Huizar had previously admitted to having an affair with an aide in 2013, but he was cleared in a related sexual harassment lawsuit.

Misconduct at 10 cities and water district since 2006

Huizar joins a long list of officials – mostly Democrats – who have faced serious accusations of wrongdoing in Los Angeles County since 2006. A 2016 overview by CalWatchdog found 21 officials with 10 cities and a water agency had been targeted by law enforcement over that span.

The list: Bell, Carson, Central Basin Municipal Water District, Commerce, Cudahy, Lynwood, Maywood, Montebello, South El Monte, South Gate and Vernon.

The range of offenses ranged from outrageous – the Bell city manager and City Council looting the city treasury of tens of millions of dollars – to the mundane – council members using city government credit cards at strip clubs and for party weekends in Las Vegas.

The main theory about why the county has so much corruption has to do with the inability of watchdogs to keep track of public officials’ wrongdoing, especially with many local newspapers disappearing. There are 88 incorporated cities and more than 500 government agencies and special districts in the county’s 4,083 square miles.

Study says Chicago only region with more convictions

This has led to the argument that the corruption is no surprise given that Los Angeles County is the most populous in the country. But a 2012 University of Illinois study of all federal corruption convictions since 1976 found the L.A. region was ninth in per-capita rates of corruption convictions – meaning they were far more common than in most metro areas. L.A. was second to Chicago in total convictions.

Bill Boyarsky, a veteran journalist who served on the city of Los Angeles’ ethics committee, told Southern California Public Radio in 2012 that he was unsurprised by the findings.

“There’s always been a long, long history of corruption and bending the law in the Southland,” he said. “This area is so vast [and] there’s so much going on that the corruption hasn’t been shown-up yet.”

Originally posted at Cal Watchdog.

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