Editor's Note: Updated at 4:40 p.m. with a statement from Englander's council, Janet Levine.
The first major domino in a FBI probe into possible corruption at City Hall fell on Monday.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander surrendered himself to FBI agents on Monday morning after being indicted on charges that he obstructed an investigation into a possible “pay-to-play” scheme at City Hall during and after his time as Council District 12 representative.
Englander, 49, is charged with seven total counts: one count of participating in a scheme to falsify material facts, three counts of making false statements and three counts of witness tampering.
The indictment, which was returned by a grand jury in January but not released until today, alleges that from Aug. 2017 to Dec. 2018, Englander knowingly covered up facts pertaining to an FBI probe into corruption at City Hall. The investigation first made headlines in November 2018 when FBI agents raided District 14 Councilman Jose Huizar’s home, and his City Hall and Boyle Heights offices. No charges have been filed against Huizar since the probe was made public.
Englander’s attorney, Janet Levine of Kendall Brill & Kelly LLP, provided the following statement:
"Mitch is proud of the work he has done to serve his community as both a volunteer reserve police officer and a public official," the statement read. "Despite this setback, with the support of his family and friends, he looks forward to continuing his lifelong contributions to the community that has given him so much."
The bulk of the indictment places a microscope on a June 2017 trip to Las Vegas, where Englander, accompanied by two city staffers, a lobbyist and a real estate developer, allegedly accepted $10,000 in cash, services from two female escorts, hotel rooms, $1,000 in casino gambling chips, $34,000 in bottle service at a nightclub and an almost $2,500 dinner from someone identified in the indictment as “Businessperson A.”
The indictment also makes mention of a 2017 Palm Springs trip, where Englander allegedly accepted an envelope with $5,000 in cash from the previously mentioned businessperson. A week later, an individual identified as “Developer B” was put into contact with the businessperson.
The indictment alleges that after Englander was made aware of the corruption probe, he sent multiple encrypted phone messages to “Businessperson A” explaining that he would like to reimburse him for portions of those 2017 trips.
Englander, and the city staff who accompanied the former councilman on the trip, then allegedly wrote a reimbursement check for expenses related to the Las Vegas trip. The checks were reportedly backdated to appear as if they were sent prior to being made aware of the investigation.
On three occasions, according to prosecutors, Englander attempted to get “Businessperson A” “to lie to, or omit information from federal prosecutors.”
According to the indictment, Englander repeatedly prepped “Businessperson A” on how to answer FBI questions, proposing that he should tell investigators that he does not remember the purpose of the calls. After being interviewed by authorities, the unidentified businessperson began working with federal investigators.
The indictment further alleges that Englander also lied to prosecutors during FBI interviews. On the same day he resigned from council to join the investment firm the Oak View Group, Englander was interviewed and asked if he received anything other than a hotel room, casino gambling chips and dinners that he eventually reimbursed. Englander responded “not that I recall,” according to the indictment.
City Councilman John Lee, Englander’s former chief of staff who now represents District 12, issued a statement on Twitter acknowledging that he was present during the Las Vegas trip, but said he “did everything in [his] power to pay for and reimburse expenses related to this trip.”
Lee left Englander’s office in 2017. The indictment notes that the individual named “City Staffer B,” described as a “high-ranking staff member” also left Englander’s office in 2017.
“I was unaware of any illegal activities for which Councilmember Englander is being charged,” Lee’s statement continued. He added that he is cooperating with the FBI’s investigation.
Englander had served as District 12 representative from July 2011 to Dec. 31, 2018, during which he served as Council President Pro Tem and was a member of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which plays a role in approving some of the city’s most impactful development projects. Huizar also served on that committee, prior to being pulled from his committee posts following the November 2018 raids.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a statement, said that he expects all City employees with information on the investigation to come forward if called by the FBI.
Englander resigned less than a month after the raid on Huizar’s offices and home. The search warrant, which made no reference to Englander, revealed a number of city officials and developers, including aides for Huizar’s office, Ninth District Representative Curren Price, Deron Williams, an aide to Councilman Herb Wesson, Ray Chan, a former Department of Building and Safety chief, and Shawn Kuk, planning director for the 14th District.
Englander pled not guilty to the charges and was released on a $50,000 bond supplied by his wife. If convicted on all seven counts, Englander could face a maximum of 50 years in federal prison.