Timing Everything on Huizar Scandal

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Jerry Sullivan

Sometimes it takes an accident thousands of miles away to provide rock-solid confirmation that you’re on the right path. That’s what happened last week on SullivanSaysSoCal’s coverage of the federal investigation into 14th District Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar … I knew my reporting was on the mark. I readily acknowledge that it’s been aggressive—but sometimes you have to be bold and spend some of the credibility you’ve earned over the course of years by asking readers to trust both your skills and intent as a journalist. The only other option in this instance would have been to let the FBI and IRS continue to tell the story at their own pace, dictating the coverage at their convenience...

Federal investigators often work at their own pace for good reasons based on appropriate priorities for prosecutors. There are other important reasons for journalists to investigate and report at a different pace as representatives of the public's right to know what's going on with government in our democracy. Anything less than an aggressive pace in the case of Huizar amounts to an invitation for him and some of his colleagues and staff time to rearrange perceptions, and maybe some facts, and duck any notion of accountability. Waiting for the investigators and prosecutors to give an official account of the story -- or perhaps not ever give one -- also stands to dismiss the basic notion that the public has a right to some significant explanation anytime federal agents raid an office in City Hall, as they did on Nov. 7, descending on Huizar’s workplace as well as one of his field offices and his home before going silent on any details for months ...

Huizar

Waiting for public officials to fill in the blanks might work for the Los Angeles Times, and it is the safest route for any newsroom. It's certainly easier to write a history report based on documents pertaining to an official investigation of corruption than taking on the day-to-day reporting that turns the table and has the press bringing instances of public skulduggery to the attention of the investigators ... Journalists and readers alike should recall that Watergate was an on-the-fly, unplanned series of breaking news stories pushed to the heights by a couple of enterprising reporters. They weren’t “investigative journalists,” and there was no project laid out with the proclivities of Pulitzer Prize judges in mind—just aggressive day-to-day coverage, well-developed relationships and applied logic that combined to knit together the ultimate tale of political corruption ...

Waiting for public officials to dish up the official story, meanwhile, is a passive form of journalism that seems to be the norm in L.A.'s press corp, this column a notable exception. And that helps explain how elected and appointed officials in the City of Los Angeles have gotten away with spending the past decade or more growing a culture of corruption that now looks ripe to produce one of the biggest cases of municipal corruption seen in the U.S. in years … The passive approach also might explain why the feds seemed resolutely committed to controlling communications about their latest investigation through their documents, which were initially sealed by the courts. The Times' latest chapter in the Huizar story started with a story in the edition of Sunday, January 13, which was made possible when news of a publicly available federal warrant was tweeted by Seamus Hughes, an expert on counter-terrorism who’s on the staff of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. An encore in the next day’s edition of the Times seemed to clean up some rough spots in the prior piece without adding much new, especially for anyone who went online to read the federal warrant …

The gist of it all: the federal investigation, which includes the FBI and IRS, is eyeing Huizar and various commercial and pet projects, such as the $590 million L.A. Streetcar he’s been pursuing for years. The Times also relayed other information from the federal warrant, which mentions, among others, various private-sector concerns with developments in the Downtown area; 9th District Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price; Herb Wesson, who represents the 10th District and also serves as president of the 15-seat body; Ray Chan, a former deputy mayor as well as one-time head of the city’s Department of Building and Safety; and Joel Jacinto, a current member of the city’s Board of Public Works, appointed to the post, which comes with an annual salary of about $160,000, by Mayor Eric Garcetti

Now some context in regard to SullivanSaysSoCal’s work on the story over past two months—coverage that didn’t wait for official versions of events from official spokespersons for public officials. This column instead delivered timely and accurate accounts of events ahead of official pronouncements, giving readers the chance to assess the situation based on a combination of facts from various sources and analyses grounded on sound logic. This is not intended as a boast but a chance to give readers some insights on the values, abilities and old-fashioned effort this new column brings to the marketplace—and to remind everyone that it matters to have a press that does more than waits for information from official sources. So here are some excerpts from SullivanSaysSoCal.com, with the highlighted dates providing links to click for access to full versions of coverage, with a couple of trailing headlines from the Times to illustrate the larger point:

Nov. 9, 2018 “Don’t be surprised if Huizar’s troubles spill into other offices around City Hall, either – and it wouldn’t be a total shock if a few Downtown or Eastside business folk or colleagues in other districts who deal with him in his role as chairman of the powerful Planning and Land Use Committee get caught up in the mess.”

It took a public disclosure of a federal warrant more than two months later for the Times to hit upon the main thread of the story:

Nov. 16, 2018 “Yeah—it’s about the money. What else to surmise with word that the IRS is working alongside the  FBI on a probe of 14th District City Councilmember  Jose Huizar? The investigation flashed in public with Nov. 7 raids on Huizar’s office in City Hall, one of his field offices, and his home in Boyle Heights. The feds have been mostly mum since, but FBI spokesperson  Laura Eimiller recently confirmed to SullivanSaysSoCal that IRS agents were on the job at one of the locations ... No official word on which of the locations, but the presence of the IRS indicates matters are well beyond the recent accusations of harassment and retaliation made against Huizar by former staffers” …

Nov. 23, 2018 “Now comes word that four other warrants related to the case were served at undisclosed locations on Nov. 7. FBI spokesperson  Laura Eimiller confirmed the additional warrants,  which remain under a court seal,  but  declined to offer any other details such as addresses or whether the targets were government offices or private businesses or homes.”

It took the Times until January 14 to zero in on key aspects of the case as they relate to private-sector developers.

Dec. 7, 2018 “Can the proposed $590 million, four-mile  L.A. Streetcar that 14th District City Councilmember  Jose Huizar has championed for Downtown be long for this world? That’s what some wags with reason to wonder are asking in the wake of Huizar’s sudden decision to cancel the 2019 edition of Night on Broadway, a 5-year-old event that reportedly drew 250,000 frolickers to the heart of Los Angeles last year, lining up eight or 10 sponsorships, charging vendors to set up shop in public, and generally winning rave reviews for the publicity it brought Downtown” …

Dec. 18, 2018 “Huizar spokesperson  Rick Coca did respond to one of the public queries included in last week’s edition of SullivanSays, which wondered why any City Council office wouldn’t have financial information readily at hand on an event such as  Night on Broadway, which drew a reported 250,000 visitors and took fees from dozens of vendors 11 months ago … ‘Staff in charge of event last year is out until new year,’ wrote Coca in an email. ‘We will have something for you after the holidays’ … There’s no telling if Huizar or his staff realize how many  red flags that response sets off” …

Jan. 1, 2019 “Here’s the lead that everyone else has buried in recent days: 14th District Los Angeles City Councilmember  Jose Huizar has hired a criminal defense team that includes a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who served with a public-corruption unit … The Eastside also buzzes from time to time about Huizar taking refuge at a ranch in the Inland Empire. A recent run out to the country to track down a few leads on the western edge of Riverside County yielded nothing solid, although there was enough horse manure in the area to make any politician feel at home” …

Count SullivanSaysSoCal's coverage confirmed by the recent warrant … Meanwhile, it seems the feds still have the Times waiting for official word on whatever is next. The paper’s recent stories didn’t ask or answer an obvious question that no doubt left lots of readers to wonder about Hughes, the East Coast academic who brought the federal warrant to light: Did his role as a counter-terrorism specialist lead him to the warrant? The document did cite several China-based developers with projects in the Downtown area as entities of interest to investigators. I asked Hughes directly, and here’s his response: “My security background didn’t play into it. Only so much that I was looking for a terrorism search warrant and stumbled across this by accident,” he told me via email … There’s the accident thousands of miles away … Stay tuned for more stumbles in the City of Angels ... And here's the next tip ahead of the feds: keep a close eye on the Department of Building and Safety.

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4 Comments

    • De Zaad

      The manufactured need for news to be entertainment, flowing with a breathlessness that gets out ahead of the facts is one of the biggest problems with this country. You, Sullivan, are part of that problem. Oh, I don’t blame you primarily. I blame your audience. There wouldn’t be a market for poor journalism if people didn’t consume it.

      I’ll wait for the slower outlets to provide an accurate account of the situation. Facts are far less accurate when they are rushed, your ridiculous and self-serving protestations notwithstanding. Ugh.

      • Please feel free to detail any factual inaccuracies you find in SullivansSaysSoCal’s coverage.

        And here’s the lead the L.A. Times missed in today’s story of the City Hall scandal:
        A lawyer for Joel Jacinto said the two-time mayoral appointee is willing to “fully and voluntarily cooperate as a witness against any individuals within city government” after his sudden resignation from a $160,000-a-year post on city’s Board of Public Works marked the latest fallout in the federal investigation of City Councilmember Jose Huizar.

        Here’s the Times version, which wasn’t slow – but perhaps a bit gullible:
        “An appointee of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who was named in a federal search warrant filed in the FBI’s ongoing City Hall corruption probe resigned from his post Friday.
        Joel Jacinto, who sat on the five-member Board of Public Works, submitted a resignation letter that went into effect immediately. His attorney, Thomas M. Brown, said in an email that Jacinto stepped aside voluntarily to avoid becoming a distraction for his agency.
        “’If contacted by any federal agency, he will fully and voluntarily cooperate as a witness against any individuals within city government’,” Brown said. “’He hopes that he will be able to return to his position as commissioner in the near future after any distraction related to his willingness to serve as a witness is completed.’”

        Let’s see where things land and whether the Times bought into a spin that Jacinto has made a personal sacrifice to spare the Department of Public Works any “distraction.” Could it be he’s shopping for a deal from the feds?

        Either way it’s a front-page lead any time a fellow whose name cropped up in a federal warrant related to an FBI investigation resigns from a coveted post with a six-figure salary — and goes out of his way to say he’s willing to cooperate with agents who have already raided City Hall in the course of their investigation.

  1. I’m grateful, to be sure, and I ask everyone to go to sullivansayssocal.com and hit the “Subscribe” button. It’s only $29.99 for a WHOLE YEAR–that’s just 58 cents a week for coverage that cares about our communities.

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