Former L.A. Councilman Mitchell Englander to plead guilty in corruption case
The federal corruption case against former Los Angeles Councilman Mitchell Englander had all the elements of an overheated crime novel: envelopes of cash, a trip to a Las Vegas casino, a female escort sent to a hotel room.
And now, it will have a guilty plea, according to paperwork filed by the U.S. attorney’s office on Friday.
Englander, 49, reached a plea agreement this week in an obstruction-of-justice case that centered on his acceptance of money, hotel rooms and other gifts during trips to Las Vegas and the Palm Springs area. The onetime LAPD reserve officer will plead guilty to one count of scheming to falsify material facts.
Prosecutors charged Englander with lying to FBI agents as they investigated allegations that he received cash payments, expensive “bottle service,” escort services and other freebies from a businessman with companies in Southern California.
Friday’s court filing marks a turning point in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe of City Hall, with prosecutors securing their first guilty plea from an elected city official. Englander resigned from public office two years ago, after FBI agents had begun asking him about the Vegas trip.
Prosecutors have also filed a case alleging that an unnamed councilman attempted to secure a $500,000 bribe from a real estate developer. The government’s description of that official — identifying him as a council member who was facing term limits, sat on the planning committee and was working to have a relative succeed him in office — made clear it is Councilman Jose Huizar, whose home and offices were raided by FBI agents in 2018.
A lawyer for Huizar declined to comment.
A search warrant filed that same year indicated that investigators also have been seeking evidence of possible crimes involving Councilman Curren Price and current or former aides to Councilman Herb Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Janet I. Levine, Englander’s attorney, said the former councilman “accepts full responsibility for his actions and is contrite and embarrassed by his conduct.”
“With the help and support of his family and friends, he will continue to move forward and look for new ways to contribute to his community,” she said.
Levine declined to comment on whether Englander will help investigators with the ongoing probe. As part of the plea agreement, the U.S. attorney’s office will dismiss the remaining counts in the indictment against Englander at his sentencing.
Federal prosecutors also have agreed not to seek a sentence of imprisonment above 36 months.
An ongoing FBI investigation into Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar is part of a broader corruption probe in which agents are seeking possible evidence involving Councilman Curren Price and a senior aide to Council President Herb Wesson, as well as several other city officials and business figures, according to a federal search warrant.
Englander represented the northwest San Fernando Valley from 2011 to 2018, heading up the council committee that deals with public safety. In June 2017, he received an array of gifts from a businessman while on a trip to Las Vegas with two city staffers, a lobbyist and a real estate developer, according to documents filed as part of the plea agreement.
Those gifts included $10,000 in cash for Englander. Hotel rooms, dinner, drinks and $24,000 in bottle service at a nightclub were provided to Englander and the others on the trip, according to the indictment.
The businessman also paid for two female escorts during the trip, instructing one of the escorts to go to Englander’s room, according to federal filings. The businessman did not know whether Englander took advantage of those services, the document said.
Englander later took another envelope of cash from the businessman — this time containing $5,000 — during a trip to a casino near Palm Springs.
Prosecutors allege the businessman had been seeking help from Englander and other city officials in marketing his products — cabinetry and electronic equipment used in homes — to developers pursuing big real estate projects in Los Angeles.
While at the casino outside Palm Springs, Englander introduced the businessman to an unnamed real estate developer over lunch, according to court records. After the lunch, the developer expressed interest in meeting with the businessman to learn more about his products, prosecutors said.
The businessman later began cooperating with the FBI, recording conversations with Englander and taking photos of messages sent by the councilman while he was using a phone app that encrypts and automatically deletes texts.
Prosecutors said that after they contacted Englander to ask about the trip, he instructed the businessman to provide false and misleading information to FBI agents. Englander told the man not to say anything about escort services and said he should falsely state that he had tried to provide reimbursement for his hotel room and dinner in Las Vegas, according to investigators.
Using recordings and captured text messages, investigators concluded Englander had lied to them during three separate interviews conducted between October 2017 and December 2018. In one interview, conducted in February 2018, they tabulated at least five false statements from the former councilman, who now lives in Santa Monica, according to the indictment.
Before winning public office, Englander served as chief of staff to Councilman Greig Smith, who also represented the northwest Valley. In an interview this week, Smith said he personally felt hurt by the revelations in the Englander case.
“I’m really embarrassed [by] what he did,” Smith said. “Because it reflects on me. He damaged all of us.”
Englander is the first elected official to face criminal charges at City Hall since former Councilman Richard Alarcon, who spent nearly a decade defending himself in a case that centered on whether he lied about where he lived.
Alarcon was found guilty of perjury and voter fraud charges in 2014. But he was cleared years later, when an appeals court threw out the conviction, saying the judge had issued improper instructions. Prosecutors ultimately declined to retry the case.
The court has not scheduled a date for Englander to enter his guilty plea, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
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