LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander surrendered to federal authorities Monday to face charges of obstructing an FBI probe into corruption at City Hall and later lying to law enforcement about his conduct.
Englander, 49, represented LA Council District 12 in the San Fernando Valley for more than seven years before abruptly resigning in December 2018 with two years left on his term.
Englander served briefly as the council’s president pro tem, was on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee – which oversees major commercial and residential development in LA – and was a reserve LAPD officer.
A seven-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury Jan. 16 accuses Englander of interfering with an anti-corruption investigation into pay-to-play schemes involving LA public officials.
According to the indictment, an owner of commercial development companies – identified in court documents as Businessperson A – sought to increase business opportunities in the city by lining Englander’s pockets with cash and showering him with expensive gifts.
During June 2017 trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs, Englander accepted cash, female escort services, pricey hotel stays and expensive meals from the businessman.
In one trip, Englander was put up at a pricey hotel and given an envelope with $10,000 in cash, $1,000 in casino gambling chips, $34,000 in bottle service at a nightclub, and a $2,481 dinner at a restaurant, according to the indictment.
In a trip to Palm Springs for a golf tournament, Businessperson A gave Englander an envelope with $5,000 in cash.
The lavish gifts paid off for the businessman, according to the indictment, which says Englander arranged for Businessperson A to talk business with a developer who was a friend of the councilman.
Two months after the Las Vegas trip, Businessperson A began cooperating with the FBI as part of the public corruption probe.
In August 2017, Englander caught wind of the FBI’s corruption probe and began sending encrypted messages to Businessperson A using the online messaging service Confide.
Englander indicated he wanted to reimburse Businessperson A for portions of the June 2017 Las Vegas trip, according to the indictment.
Englander also attempted to persuade Businessperson A to lie to the FBI and federal prosecutors conducting the corruption probe and leave out any relevant information during interviews with them.
The indictment says Englander went a step further on Feb. 6, 2018, sending Businessperson A direct instructions to lie to the FBI and to withhold information from investigators, specifically details of Englander’s interactions with female escorts and his attempts to reimburse the businessman for the gifts.
Six days later, Englander moved the conversation offline. He picked up Businessperson A in his car and drove him repeatedly around a city block as he again instructed him to lie to federal agents. Englander blasted his car radio in an attempt to obstruct any investigators listening to his conversation, the indictment says.
In three separate conversations with federal agents in 2017 and 2018, Englander lied about his conversations with Businessperson A regarding the FBI or their corruption probe, the indictment says, adding that Englander also falsely stated he did not instruct anyone on what to say to investigators.
On Dec. 31, 2018, the day he resigned from the LA City Council, Englander met with the FBI and federal prosecutors and lied again about receiving valuable items from Businessperson A according to the indictment.
Authorities claim Englander falsely stated he told Businessperson A to “be transparent, and share everything” with federal investigators.
Englander faces one count of participating in a scheme to falsify material facts, three counts of making false statements, and three counts of witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon at the Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse in Los Angeles.
If convicted of the seven charges in the indictment, Englander would face a statutory maximum penalty of 50 years in federal prison.
In a statement, Englander’s attorney Janet Levine of Kendall Brill Kelly called the charges “a setback.”
“Mitch is proud of the work he has done to serve his community as both a volunteer reserve police officer and a public official. 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,” Levine said.
And on Monday, Englander’s former chief of staff and current city councilman John Lee acknowledged in a tweet that he was with Englander on the Las Vegas and Palm Springs trips but did not see anything illegal.
“I was in Las Vegas with Councilmember Englander in June 2017, and I did everything in my power to pay for and reimburse expenses related to this trip. I was unaware of any illegal activities for which Councilmember Englander is being charged,” Lee tweeted. “I completely cooperated with the FBI when they contacted me for voluntary interviews in July and August 2017 and will continue to do so.”