Smoke Screen: The Sellout

Neon Hum Media

Jose Huizar grew up in Boyle Heights – a working-class Latinx neighborhood in L.A. Eventually, he became their councilperson. And, for the most part, people trusted Huizar... until the day the FBI raided his home and offices, looking for evidence of corruption. The Feds would go on to say that Huizar led a criminal enterprise based in city hall. He stands accused of taking bribes from luxury developers as his constituents were displaced from their homes. This season of Smoke Screen is a collaboration with grassroots media organization L.A. TACO. In this 9-part investigative series, 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.

Coming Soon: I Am Rama
TrailerE 3 min 38 sec

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Huizar’s carelessness starts to catch up with him. After more than a dozen all-expenses paid trips to Vegas with plenty of perks, Huizar gets played by one of his own. A businessman turned FBI informant gives Huizar an envelope with $15,000 in cash, and then tells the Feds all about it. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Dec 7

36 min 58 sec

Huizar’s downfall started with a sexual harassment lawsuit. He didn’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle the suit on his own... so the Feds say he relied on a new friend. A developer who had plans to build a 77-story hotel in downtown LA. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Nov 30

31 min 34 sec

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Nov 23

35 min 38 sec

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Nov 16

37 min 59 sec

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Nov 9

36 min 47 sec

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Nov 2

36 min 35 sec

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Oct 26

27 min 33 sec

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Oct 26

36 min 18 sec

Jonathan Hirsch, Neon Hum CEO and host of I Am Rama, introduces this season of Smoke Screen (it's called The Sellout!) and our new paid subscription service, Smoke Screen Plus. If you buy a paid subscription on Apple Podcasts, you’ll get three episodes of bonus content throughout the season. You’ll also get each episode without ads, and 24 hours early. And, if you don’t subscribe… that’s fine! You’ll still get access to all the episodes, free. The first two episodes of The Sellout drop on October 26th. It's the story of a politician dogged by allegations of corruption, harassment and pathological pettiness. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Oct 22

1 min 40 sec

Jose Huizar grew up in Boyle Heights – a working-class Latinx neighborhood in L.A. Eventually, he became their councilperson. And, for the most part, people trusted Huizar... until the day the FBI raided his home and offices, looking for evidence of corruption. The Feds would go on to say that Huizar led a criminal enterprise based in city hall. He stands accused of taking bribes from luxury developers as his constituents were displaced from their homes. This season of Smoke Screen is a collaboration with grassroots media organization L.A. TACO. In this 9-part investigative series, 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. "The Sellout" drops October 26th. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Oct 12

3 min 10 sec

In this episode, we explore all that Rama left behind: students, a charitable foundation, music, books, and a complicated legacy. I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Special Thanks: Shara Morris, Nick White, Carla Green, Chrystal Genesis, Natalie Rinn, Hayley Fager, and the rest of the team at Neon Hum and Sony Music Podcasts  Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Aug 17

34 min 57 sec

Power trips to paradise and never-before shared knowledge -- were these golden times, or Rama’s way of saying goodbye? This episode explores the final years leading of Rama's life.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Aug 10

29 min 44 sec

As Rama’s image took a hit in the public sphere, his students circled the wagons around their teacher. In something of a last ditch effort to win over the media, Rama accepts an invitation to appear on Dateline.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Aug 3

28 min 1 sec

Multiple women accuse Rama of sexual misconduct and emotional manipulation. Many of Rama’s students defend their teacher.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jul 27

24 min 50 sec

Rama finds himself in the crosshairs of the Cult Awareness Network, a group dedicated to extricating people from what they consider to be cults by “deprogramming” them. But Rama’s students tell a much different story. I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jul 20

40 min 59 sec

A young woman follows Rama to New York, and mysteriously vanishes, leaving behind many to wonder what happened. In this episode, people who knew and loved Brenda Kerber piece her story back together.  Contact White Plains Police Department I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts.  If you have any information about the death of Brenda Kerber that wasn’t reflected in this episode, please contact the White Plains Police Department in New York at https://whiteplainspublicsafety.com/submit-a-tip/ or 914-422-6111.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jul 13

38 min 3 sec

Will Arntz is a man of many talents, from filmmaker to laser physicist. In this episode, Will relives the time he spent studying with Rama and how it changed his life.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jul 6

43 min 25 sec

Rama’s growth as a spiritual teacher in the mid-80s starts in California but takes him and his students all over the country. Rama defines his doctrine, turning his attention to the potential of the computer industry. But for his students, it’s not always easy to keep up with their teacher, or stay in his good graces.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jun 29

28 min 5 sec

This episode follows Frederick Lenz III from his early days and education through his introduction to spiritualism with his mentor, Sri Chinmoy, at the dawn of the New Age. Young Freddie  becomes “Atmananda,” a recruiter for his mentor, until it becomes time to strike out on his own, as Zen Master Rama.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch  Producer: Kate Mishkin   Editor: Vikram Patel  Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis  Sound Designer: Scott Somerville  Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko  Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. If you want to know more about Rama’s early years, you can read more from the people who we interviewed for this episode. Liz Lewinson’s book is called “American Buddhist Rebel The Story of Rama, Dr. Frederick Lenz.” Mark Laxer's books is called “Take Me For a Ride, Coming of Age in a Destructive Cult.”  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jun 22

27 min 51 sec

Rama was a man of many faces: teacher, tech entrepreneur, friend - and to some, a scam artist. This episode introduces Rama, examining the world from which he came, the way he shaped those who entered his orbit for better and for worse, and the mysterious circumstances around his demise.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum original podcast.  Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions.  You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com.  You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media.  For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jun 22

36 min 12 sec

Rama was a spiritual teacher in the 80s and 90s who inspired many of his students while helming what many of his detractors would describe as a cult. He defied society’s archetypal vision of a New Age leader, eschewing minimalism for wealth and celebrity. He was also a man ahead of his time, encouraging his students to develop careers in computer science before that was mainstream. For some, following Rama's lead worked out spiritually, and financially too. But for others, Rama's actions contradicted his cool persona; some eventually came forward with accusations of abuse, others vanished, whistleblowers went to the media, and the group began to shrink and splinter.  In this 10-part investigative series, Jonathan Hirsch explores the life, death and impact of Rama. "I Am Rama" drops June 22.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jun 8

3 min 38 sec

Have you ever wondered about those people in life who don’t play by the rules? Maybe it was the person who looked over your shoulder in that exam. The person who got the job instead of you because they lied on their application or the nice fella on the phone who said he was from the bank and ended up taking all your money. We have a name for these people. We call them cheats. People who cheat the system, largescale cheats, social media cheats. We are fascinated by them. We read about them in paper. Or watch news stories about them on TV. We marvel at their rise and take a weird pleasure in their fall. But do we ever ask what makes these cheats actually do the bad things they do? What makes them cheat? From Somethin’ Else, makers of ‘Power: The Maxwells’ and ‘The Fault Line: Bush, Blair and Iraq’, hosted by storyteller Alzo Slade, ‘Cheat!’ tells the inside stories behind some of the biggest scandals in contemporary history and the flawed protagonists at their heart: controversial and contentious figures from the world of pop culture, business, sport, music, politics. Why do people cheat? Is it ever justifiable? And most importantly are cheats – these people we think of as the dregs of our society – actually not so different from ourselves? A Somethin' Else production. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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May 24

7 min 29 sec

Two young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs set out to rid the world of smoking with an incredible new product. The device stands to disrupt the tobacco industry and make them rich, until it falls into the wrong hands and lives are ruined. From classrooms to hospitals, boardrooms to the Oval Office, what can be done to protect teenagers? And is it too late?  From Laura Beil, the reporter behind Dr Death and Bad Batch, comes The Vaping Fix, the inside story of the rise of Juul and the making of a crisis. Listen to THE VAPING FIX at: wondery.fm/VF_SmokeScreen Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

May 18

6 min 26 sec

Until now, Father Ryan has mostly escaped punishment for stealing money from followers under false pretenses. What would it take for him to face a jury of his peers? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Oct 2020

37 min 19 sec

Alex Schuman finally has his showdown with Father Ryan. But things don't go as planned because Father Ryan has something to confess about his past that sheds light on why he wanted to become a "priest" in the first place. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Oct 2020

36 min 56 sec

In his autobiography, Father Ryan connects himself to two priests who died suspiciously. One he accuses of molesting children. The other? He says he teamed up with to publicly shame pedophile priests. What's the truth? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Sep 2020

29 min

The father-daughter investigator team discovers the cop who arrested Father Ryan may have an ulterior motive. They defend Father Ryan tooth and nail - until they get a troubling surprise of their own. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Sep 2020

34 min 55 sec

A sheriff deputy arrests Father Ryan for taking more than $70,000 from an elderly follower. It's looking like he might get 7 years in prison, but then he meets a father-daughter pair of private investigators who change everything. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Sep 2020

34 min 41 sec

After Father Ryan steals a follower's money, her property and even her husband's ashes, she hires a lawyer. A legal battle ensues over unpaid loans and a herd of llamas that Father Ryan leaves high and dry. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Sep 2020

34 min 10 sec

Even con artists need mentors. Meet the false prophet who teaches Father Ryan how to perfect his con. Father Ryan evades criminal charges again and Alex learns about an unspoken reason prosecutors could let many criminals go free. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Aug 2020

33 min 31 sec

Alex tracks down Father Ryan’s son, Jonathan Brady, and discovers Father Ryan was a scammer and manipulator long before he wore a priestly robe. Turns out he had plenty of practice committing fraud before he opened his first church in Wisconsin.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Aug 2020

34 min 31 sec

Investigative reporter Alex Schuman hears about a guy accused of swindling millions who has travelled the Midwest for decades pretending to be a priest. Alex starts his journey talking to two people who have long tried to expose the truth. Alex is hoping to finally figure out why anyone would try to pull off such an elaborate con. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Aug 2020

33 min 5 sec

For 30 years, a man claimed to be a priest. He performed baptisms and took confession. Every time he ran into trouble, Father Ryan would move on to another small Midwestern town and start his scheme all over again. Followers who once worshiped him, now accuse him of exploitation, fraud and abuse. In season one of Smoke Screen, join Alex Schuman as he unravels this con and gets answers from this white-collar criminal himself. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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Jul 2020

2 min 15 sec