LOS ANGELES – Defending someone involved in a high-profile corruption scandal is nothing new for Stanley Friedman.  

The former Assistant U.S. Attorney turned white collar criminal defense litigator represents George Chiang, who recently agreed to plead guilty to a federal racketeering charge in an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving a Chinese real estate company bribing a Los Angeles City Council member

What You Need To Know

  • Former aide to Councilmember Jose Huizar agrees to plead guilty

  • George Esparza served Huizar from 2013-2018, currently Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo 

  • Esparza faces a federal racketing conspiracy charge, 4th person to plead guilty in probe

  • Esparza, Huizar both declined to comment

“He’s just very regretful for his conduct and now realizes that his conduct was wrong and wants to make amends and cooperate in any way that he can,” Friedman said. “Obviously he’s worried. He has a family and children.” 

Friedman, who also defended the former Mayor of Bell when that city was embroiled in a public corruption scandal, said he can’t comment on the specifics involving the federal corruption probe into LA City Hall. 

But Friedman did provide some general insight into how these types of cases work, and why we’re seeing some peripheral figures that by now clearly point to a particular member of City Council who hasn’t been charged: Jose Huizar. 

“If it’s obvious who the public official is, what a prosecutor often times does is start working on people who are considered to be lower level and try to get them to cooperate against people going up the chain,” Friedman said. 

The most recent plea agreement involves the former special assistant to Councilman Huizar from 2013 to 2018, George Esparza, who is expected to plead guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge.

Esparza left Huizar’s office in January 2018 and joined the staff of Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). Esparza currently serves as Carrillo’s Chief of Staff, which a staffer at her office confirmed Wednesday morning. 



According to the plea agreement, Esparza admits to being part of a “criminal enterprise” in which developers paid more than a million dollars in financial benefits and gifts to a Councilmember and others in exchange for help with their real estate projects.

The plea agreement says Esparza accepted $32,000 in gambling chips, flights, stays at luxury hotels with expensive meals/alcohol, spa services, event tickets, and escort services from the chairman of a development company run by a Chinese billionaire who had a proposed skyscraper before the city. 

As part of the criminal conspiracy, prosecutors say Esparza even discussed punishing a developer who was not providing financial benefits to the Councilmember he served by withholding approvals for the developer’s project.  Specifically, the plea agreement claims Esparza said this of an unnamed development company:

“[Company G] has not come through with any other commitments to us, to you, so you know, why even be helpful to them, you know, that’s my thing... So I’m going to tell [Councilmember A] that I spoke to you and let’s just continue to ignore them, you know. We are not going to help them.” 

Attempts to reach Esparza through his attorney, Terrence Jones, went unanswered Wednesday. Carrillo also didn’t respond to our requests for comment. 

The plea agreement also alleges that the chairman referenced above agreed to facilitate a $600,000 payment to help a Councilmember resolve a sexual harassment suit filed against him during the 2014 campaign. 

Councilman Huizar was the target of such a lawsuit but neither he nor his attorney would offer comment on the recent developments. 

Esparza marks the fourth person to agree to plead guilty in the wide-ranging federal investigation and cooperate with authorities. 

Friedman says cooperation in a federal investigation plays a huge factor when it comes time for sentencing. A federal judge will take someone’s cooperation into consideration and it’s often the best way to see reduced punishment. 

But there are generally serious personal consequences for people named in these types of investigations.  

“Friends, neighbors, relatives, business associates learn. There’s a certain amount of humiliation that’s involved in that. Often times people will lose their business,” Friedman said.  

In his 35 years of practice, Friedman says he often sees people involved in cases go from being the closest of associates or friend to never speaking again, or worse, turning on one another.

The investigations often take years and Friedman said a case that involves charges like RICO Conspiracy can carry significant prison sentences for the people at the center.

“Racketeering is very serious. You don’t often see it with public officials. Normally you think of racketeering you think of the mafia or drug cases so it will garner a lot of attention here,” Friedman said. 

Even if an investigation involves massive companies or wealthy developers, the target is generally the person elected to office. 

“The view is that you can prosecute one developer but there might be nine others willing to engage in the same conduct. But if you prosecute the public official, the elected person, that’s going to send a message to the others that if they do something improper, they also will be the subject of a state or federal prosecution,” Friedman said.