Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander agreed Friday to plead guilty to a federal criminal charge for obstructing a public corruption investigation related to his acceptance of gifts — including cash, hotel rooms and expensive meals — from a developer during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs in 2017.
Englander, 49, of Santa Monica, faces up to five years in prison under the plea agreement, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The court did not immediately schedule a date for Englander to formally enter his guilty plea to one count of scheming to falsify material facts.
Englander represented Los Angeles Council District 12 in the San Fernando Valley from July 2011 until he resigned on Dec. 31, 2018, when he had almost two years left on his term.
Among his other duties, Englander served as the council president pro-tempore and was on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which oversees many of the most significant commercial and residential development projects in the city of Los Angeles.
According to his plea agreement, Englander schemed to cover up cash payments, expensive meals, escort services and other gifts offered to him from a businessman — identified in court documents as Businessperson A — who operated companies in Los Angeles relating to major development projects and sought to increase his business opportunities in the city.
Two months after the Las Vegas trip, the businessman began cooperating with the FBI in a public corruption investigation focused on suspected pay-to-play schemes involving Los Angeles public officials, including by making covert recordings of Englander’s interactions with him, federal prosecutors said.
From August 2017 until December 2018, Englander knowingly and willfully falsified and concealed material facts pertaining to this federal public corruption investigation, the plea agreement states. Specifically, Englander admitted he covered up facts that he had accepted items of value during June 2017 trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
On that trip, when he was accompanied by two city staffers, a lobbyist and a real estate developer, Englander accepted from Businessperson A an envelope with $10,000 in cash, hotel rooms, $1,000 in casino gambling chips, $34,000 in bottle service at a nightclub, and a $2,481 dinner, prosecutors said.
Businessperson A also paid for two female escorts to arrive at their hotel and later instructed one of the escorts to go to Englander’s room, according to the plea agreement.
At a golf tournament in Palm Springs on June 12, 2017, Englander accepted an envelope containing $5,000 in cash from Businessperson A, according to the plea agreement. Shortly after the trips, the councilman arranged for Businessperson A to pitch his business to a friend of Englander’s who was a developer, prosecutors say.
In August 2017, after he learned about the FBI’s public corruption investigation, Englander sent an encrypted message to Businessperson A, via the online messaging service Confide, indicating that he wanted to reimburse him for portions of the June 2017 Las Vegas trip, court papers show.
On at least three occasions, Englander attempted to coordinate statements he made to the FBI and federal prosecutors with Businessperson A, and he counseled Businessperson A how to lie to and mislead the FBI agents and federal prosecutors conducting the public corruption investigation, the plea agreement states.
Englander admitted that on Feb. 6, 2018, he told Businessperson A how to answer certain questions from the FBI and to withhold material information from the FBI, including questions about escort services provided by Businessperson A and Englander’s purported attempts to reimburse Businessperson A.
On Feb. 12, 2018, Englander met Businessperson A in Englander’s car and, after the councilman turned up the car stereo, he again repeatedly told Businessperson A how to respond to FBI questions while driving in a circle around the block, according to federal prosecutors.
Englander also admitted to making false statements to the FBI and federal prosecutors on three separate occasions in 2017 and 2018. For example, on Feb. 7, 2018, Englander falsely stated that he and Businessperson A had not discussed the FBI or its investigation, and that he did not tell anyone what to say to the FBI.
On Dec. 31, 2018, the day he resigned from the Los Angeles City Council, Englander again met with the FBI and federal prosecutors, and made additional false statements about receiving personal benefits from Businessperson A, and also falsely stated that he encouraged Businessperson A to “be transparent, and share everything” with the FBI, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The case against Englander is part of an ongoing public corruption investigation being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Englander is the second person to agree to plead guilty to a federal felony related to the ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors previously announced Justin Kim has agreed to plead guilty to a bribery offense for facilitating a cash payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for a different Los Angeles City Council member, who was not identified in court papers.