Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander was charged Monday with obstructing a federal investigation into cash, lavish meals, escort services and other gifts that officials say he accepted from a businessman.
Englander repeatedly instructed the businessman to lie to federal investigators about the gifts, including a “massage lady” who went to his hotel room in Las Vegas, the indictment said.
Englander is the first person to be publicly charged in connection with a wide-reaching investigation into corruption and pay-to-play schemes at Los Angeles City Hall.
Who is Mitchell Englander?
Englander, 49, represented a northwestern swath of the San Fernando Valley, including Chatsworth, Porter Ranch and Granada Hills, for more than seven years.
When he first ran for City Council, Englander campaigned as the “official public safety candidate,” touting his support from law enforcement groups, including the union that represents rank-and-file officers at the Los Angeles Police Department.
By the time Englander announced he was stepping down from the council in October 2018, he had been under federal investigation for nearly 18 months, according to the indictment. His announcement came less than a month before FBI agents descended on the home and offices of Councilman Jose Huizar and toted out boxes of materials.
What does the indictment say?
Read it here:
What are federal officials investigating at Los Angeles City Hall?
Agents have been seeking evidence of potential crimes including bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering involving more than a dozen people, according to a search warrant filed more than a year ago.
Those people include Huizar and aides in his office; Councilman Curren Price, who represents part of South Los Angeles; Deron Williams, who works as a top aide to Councilman Herb Wesson; and former Department of Building and Safety chief Ray Chan, as well as other city officials and business figures.
What is Englander charged with?
The 27-page indictment lists seven counts: three counts of witness tampering, three counts of making false statements and a single count of scheming to falsify facts.
Could he go to prison?
Englander could face a maximum of 50 years in federal prison if convicted of the seven charges.
What are the details of the charges?
Federal officials say Englander and one of his top aides went to a Las Vegas resort and casino in June 2017 with the businessman, another city staffer, a lobbyist and a real estate developer, according to the indictment. The indictment says Englander accepted gifts from the unidentified businessman, including:
- An “envelope containing $10,000 in cash,” handed over in a bathroom at the casino
- Approximately $1,000 in gambling chips
- Dinner and drinks at a casino restaurant that totaled $2,481 for a group dinner
- $24,000 in bottle service and alcohol at a Las Vegas night club for the group
- A female escort sent to his hotel room
Federal officials say Englander also met the businessman in Palm Springs during a golf tournament at the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa and accepted $5,000 in cash in an envelope in a bathroom.
The gifts were not reported on Englander’s Form 700, a state filing that lists financial disclosures and discloses potential conflicts of interest, the indictment said.
A week after the Palm Springs trip, Englander brought the businessman to lunch with a person identified in the indictment as “Developer B,” the CEO of a construction company. The purpose of the lunch, the indictment said, was to give the businessman a chance to introduce himself and his company to the developer.
How did federal authorities investigate Englander?
Federal authorities wiretapped a phone call in 2017 in which the participants discussed the businessman’s perks and payments to public officials, the indictment said. Investigators began digging into whether Englander, another City
Council member (described in the indictment as “Councilmember A”), and two of their staff members had received “personal benefits.”
Englander’s staff member was interviewed about the Las Vegas trip, according to the indictment.
So was the businessman, who later accepted an offer from prosecutors to formally cooperate in the investigation. Such cooperation deals offer defendants the chance to secure a more lenient sentence in exchange for their help gathering evidence against other suspects and testifying against others at trials.
How did Englander allegedly lie to the FBI?
According to the indictment, Englander lied repeatedly during multiple interviews with federal investigators. Englander said he never received cash payments from the businessman and said he had told the businessman to “share everything, be transparent and share everything.”
How did Englander allegedly respond to the federal investigation?
In August 2017, Englander sent an encrypted message to the businessman on an app called Confide, saying that he wanted to reimburse him for portions of the June trip to Las Vegas, the indictment said.
In September 2017, the businessman received a FedEx package with checks from Englander and a City Hall staff member, the indictment said. Both checks were for $442 and dated Aug. 4, 2017. An enclosed note from Englander indicated that the checks were for “Vegas expenses,” the indictment said.
Englander arranged to meet the businessman during a political fundraiser in February 2018 to discuss the investigation, the indictment said. Englander told the businessman: “You and I have never had a conversation. ... They are going to ask.”
The following week, Englander met with the businessman in his car in downtown, and told him to “hold on” while he “turned on the stereo to play music at a very loud volume in an effort to obstruct possible listening devices,” the indictment said.
During that conversation, Englander allegedly “repeatedly instructed” the businessman how to respond to questions about the escort service in Las Vegas. According to the indictment, Englander said: “Say, ‘I was so drunk I don’t remember calling.’ ... Or, ‘I don’t remember, maybe I dialed the wrong number, I don’t know, I don’t remember.’ ... No, just say, ‘I don’t remember.’”