37 episodes

Smoke Screen is an investigative documentary series on people with complex motives and morals. Follow characters on the fringes of society — con artists, cult leaders, corrupt politicians — as they seduce their marks and bend communities to their will. Join us as we unravel their stories and bring justice to the people they’ve deceived.

SEASON 3: The Sellout
Councilperson Jose Huizar grew up in Boyle Heights – a working-class Latinx neighborhood in L.A. For the most part, people trusted Huizar... until the day the FBI raided his home and offices, looking for evidence of a criminal enterprise. He stands accused of taking bribes from luxury developers as his constituents were displaced from their homes. Produced in collaboration with LA Taco, journalist and host Mariah Castañeda investigates how Huizar got the power to do what he did, and how the community that raised him paid the price.

SEASON 2: I Am Rama
To some he was an enlightened master, and to others a dangerous cult leader. One thing’s for sure, the spiritual leader Rama was a product of the 80s: designer clothes, a rock band, sports cars and a modern message were only some of the things that made Rama a fascinating and complex teacher. Host Jonathan Hirsch explores his life and untimely death.

SEASON 1: Fake Priest
Ryan Scott, known to some as “Father Ryan,” was no ordinary con man. He’d been accused of abusing followers and enriching himself with their money. He's left a wake of angry people across multiple states. And that’s not all. There are questions surrounding the brutal deaths of two priests he associated with. Investigative reporter Alex Schuman explores Scott's bizarre, quizzical, and sometimes dangerous world.

Smoke Screen: The Sellout Neon Hum Media

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.0 • 1.3K Ratings

Smoke Screen is an investigative documentary series on people with complex motives and morals. Follow characters on the fringes of society — con artists, cult leaders, corrupt politicians — as they seduce their marks and bend communities to their will. Join us as we unravel their stories and bring justice to the people they’ve deceived.

SEASON 3: The Sellout
Councilperson Jose Huizar grew up in Boyle Heights – a working-class Latinx neighborhood in L.A. For the most part, people trusted Huizar... until the day the FBI raided his home and offices, looking for evidence of a criminal enterprise. He stands accused of taking bribes from luxury developers as his constituents were displaced from their homes. Produced in collaboration with LA Taco, journalist and host Mariah Castañeda investigates how Huizar got the power to do what he did, and how the community that raised him paid the price.

SEASON 2: I Am Rama
To some he was an enlightened master, and to others a dangerous cult leader. One thing’s for sure, the spiritual leader Rama was a product of the 80s: designer clothes, a rock band, sports cars and a modern message were only some of the things that made Rama a fascinating and complex teacher. Host Jonathan Hirsch explores his life and untimely death.

SEASON 1: Fake Priest
Ryan Scott, known to some as “Father Ryan,” was no ordinary con man. He’d been accused of abusing followers and enriching himself with their money. He's left a wake of angry people across multiple states. And that’s not all. There are questions surrounding the brutal deaths of two priests he associated with. Investigative reporter Alex Schuman explores Scott's bizarre, quizzical, and sometimes dangerous world.

    Episode 1: The Gem of Boyle Heights

    Episode 1: The Gem of Boyle Heights

    As a working-class Latinx neighborhood in Los Angeles faces gentrification, residents are ready to fight to defend their turf. Mariachis lead a rent strike and ask their councilman Jose Huizar for help. But what they don’t realize is that he’s allegedly been taking bribes from developers building luxury housing right across the river, in downtown LA.
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    • 38 min
    Episode 2: Gentrification is Warfare

    Episode 2: Gentrification is Warfare

    A militant organization called Defend Boyle Heights protests encroaching gentrification, by any means necessary. We dig into two origin stories: how Huizar emigrated at the age of 4 and ended up at Berkeley and Princeton, and how Boyle Heights has had a history of resistance and displacement.
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    • 29 min
    Episode 3: Red Flags

    Episode 3: Red Flags

    Alvin Parra worked for Huizar when he first got elected. He saw early warning signs that Huizar wasn’t the man of the people he made himself out to be. Parra tried to warn people about what he saw behind closed doors, but most of them weren’t ready to listen. He ends up doing something drastic to try to expose Huizar.
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    • 37 min
    Episode 4: Progress Over People

    Episode 4: Progress Over People

    When fancy new developments like The Gold Line expansion get proposed, residents of Boyle Heights wonder if it’s actually for them, or if these new new things are meant to attract future residents... a.k.a. gentrifiers. A mechanic is harassed by the city of Los Angeles after he refuses to sell his land to make way for construction. And Huizar's re-election campaign against Rudy Martinez gets petty.
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    • 38 min
    Episode 5: How Downtown Was Won

    Episode 5: How Downtown Was Won

    No man is an island. Huizar couldn’t have pulled off the alleged corruption scheme without help. Host Mariah Castañeda tells the story of how Huizar allegedly built the criminal enterprise the FBI would eventually arrest him for. It all started when downtown was reassigned to his district.
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    • 37 min
    Episode 6: The Heyday

    Episode 6: The Heyday

    Gentrification comes in waves. Over years, a piece of downtown LA transformed from Skid Row, to a bastion for young artists, to a hipster neighborhood with some of the highest rents in the city. By 2018, Huizar was allegedly collecting bribes from developers planning a luxury high rise just a couple blocks from where some of his constituents were getting evicted.
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    • 37 min

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5
1.3K Ratings

1.3K Ratings

@rooflesser ,

The Sellout

This whole season is a must-listen for anyone in L.A. to truly get a sense of the corruption happening in City Hall. Tremendous investigative reporting with first-hand testimony from the people most Affected about current L.A. issues is rarely so accessible. The content is far more riveting than any drama, while still being handled with nuance & care. Primary sources are cited while being described in plain language so it is easy to understand on the first listen…but so outrageous that you will want to listen again!

garzangelica ,

Season 3 is Essential LA - a Must Listen

I am half way through and riveted. Excellent work.

Marimartrece ,

Love this narrator (Season 3)

She’s a girl from the neighborhood I can hear it in her accent. Love hearing her talk about this scandal and working class brown people.

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