Ex-LA Councilman Pleads Guilty in City Hall Corruption Probe

Los Angeles City Hall. (Courthouse News photo/Chris Marshall)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A former Los Angeles city councilman pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting bribes from a real estate developer while he was in office as part of an ongoing federal corruption probe at LA City Hall.

Mitch Englander, 49, pleaded guilty to one felony count of scheming to falsify material facts this past March according to federal prosecutors.

He appeared in a downtown federal courtroom Tuesday morning and formally entered his plea before U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, about four months after the ex-councilman was arrested.

Englander, a Republican councilman who represented sections of the San Fernando Valley while in office, abruptly left office in 2018 before his term ended to take up a job with a sports and entertainment firm.

The corruption probe has resulted in multiple arrests, including sitting Councilman Jose Huizar. Authorities arrested Huizar in June on federal racketeering charges as part of a pay-to-play scheme orchestrated from City Hall, according to federal prosecutors.

Other indictments include a former Huizar aide, a real estate developer and a consultant who prosecutors say acted as a liaison to hand off bribes to Huizar for favorable votes to help with the construction of high-rise developments. Huizar is set to appear before a federal judge this month.

Englander previously pleaded not guilty to a seven-count indictment accusing him with interfering with a corruption probe at City Hall. The indictment detailed bribes given to Englander on two trips including one to Las Vegas and another at Palm Springs, where he accepted cash, female escort services, pricey hotel stays and expensive meals from the businessman.

The charging documents against Englander say he tried to coverup large cash payments made to him from a developer, including $10,000 in cash handed to Englander in an envelope, $1,000 in gambling chips, $34,000 in bottle service at a nightclub and $2,500 dinner at a restaurant.

But soon after the Las Vegas trip, the unidentified developer began to cooperate with the FBI by recording secret conversations with Englander.

According to the plea agreement, between August 2017 and December 2018 Englander knowingly falsified information about his interactions with the developer and concealed facts from investigators.

In 2017, after getting wind of the FBI’s corruption probe, Englander began sending encrypted messages to the developer saying he wanted to reimburse him for the gifts he received. Englander also coordinated with the developer on statements to the FBI and coached him on how to lie to or mislead investigators about any gifts, including escort services, according to the plea agreement.

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 gifts, according to the plea agreement.

A special election was held to fill the vacant City Council seat. Englander’s senior aide, John Lee, went on to win the seat, but details in the indictment charges corroborate that Lee joined Englander on at least one trip where the ex-councilman received bribes.

In a statement released after Englander was indicted, Lee said he would cooperate with federal investigators.

On Tuesday, a gathering of protesters waited for Englander outside the federal courthouse and called for Lee to resign.

As part of Englander’s plea agreement federal prosecutors will not seek a prison sentence greater than 36 months.

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