On Monday, former City Councilman Mitch Englander pleaded not guilty to seven federal counts of obstruction of justice. He faces a maximum of 50 years in prison for allegedly trying to cover up an extravagant Las Vegas trip and accepting $15,000 cash from an unnamed businessman.
The Englander charges stem from a larger investigation into corruption and "pay-to-play" schemes at L.A. City Hall, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed when Englander surrendered to authorities this week.
U.S. Attorneys who presented the outline of their case at a court hearing Thursday said the businessman groomed public officials in order to buy (or bribe) his way into potentially lucrative Los Angeles developer connections. Englander's trial is set to begin May 5.
The broader corruption probe also appears to include the FBI raid of Councilman Jose Huizar's home and office in November 2018 and a federal search warrant unearthed last year focusing on downtown developers and city officials.
The full scope of the FBI investigation into city hall is still a mystery, and our understanding of it relies on piecemeal documents and snippets of information that have been released so far. To help keep track of what we know, we've put together this timeline combining important dates and milestones.
Note: Events listed below are largely based on allegations from the Englander indictment or public search warrants.
- Mitch Englander first meets "Businessperson A," according to the grand jury indictment.
- February 15: The FBI serves a search warrant on Yahoo asking for access to L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar's personal email account.
- June 1: Englander and his then-chief of staff John Lee go on a Las Vegas trip along with, according to the indictment, Businessperson A, City Staffer A ("special assistant" to City Councilmember A from June 2013 - January 2018), City Staffer B *, Lobbyist A and Developer A, among others. Businessperson A hands over a cash envelope with $10,000 in a hotel & casino bathroom and treats the group to a lavish dinner, $24,000 in nightclub bottle service (with another $10,000 in bottle service from Developer A), and female escorts. One escort is sent to Englander's room.
- June 5: The FBI investigation into Englander begins based on "a judicially authorized intercepted phone call referencing benefits received by public officials from Businessperson A."
- Early June: John Lee leaves Mitch Englander's office for a job in the private sector. *
- June 10-12: Palm Springs Golf Tournament at Morongo Casino resort, where Businessperson A allegedly gave another $5,000 envelope to Englander in a bathroom.
- June 19: Englander introduces Businessperson A to Developer B at a lunch meeting.
- July 11: FBI contacts City Staffer B asking for an interview.
- July 13: FBI contacts City Staffer B again seeking a voluntary interview.
- Sometime in July: Federal investigators contact former Englander chief of staff John Lee. *
- July 19: Federal investigators interview Businessperson A. Less than a month later, Businessperson A starts cooperating with the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office.
- Aug. 10: Businessperson A begins cooperating with the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office.
- Aug. 16: City Staffer B talks to the FBI with their attorney present.*
- Sometime in August: Federal investigators contact John Lee again.*
- Sometime in August: Mitch Englander learns about the FBI investigation, allegedly sends a Confide message to Businessperson A saying he wants to reimburse them for the Vegas trip.
- Sept. 1: FBI contacts Mitch Englander for the first time, asking for a voluntary interview. Afterwards, according to the indictment, Englander sends a back-dated check to reimburse Businessperson A for trip expenses.
- Sept. 14: Fed Ex package arrives to Businessperson A containing two checks for $442 each from Englander and City Staffer B.* Checks are labeled "Vegas expenses" and dated Aug. 4, 2017.
- Oct. 4: Mitch Englander allegedly meets Businessperson A for lunch in DTLA and discusses FBI investigation.
- Oct. 19: Englander sits for an FBI interview with his attorney present and allegedly lies, saying he hasn't told anyone about this interview.
- Jan. 31: Businessperson A sends Englander a Confide message mentioning the FBI had asked to "follow up about the check." Englander allegedly responded, "...I got a call too. Very stupid. They are waiting [sic] their time with this."
- Jan. 31-Feb 5: Englander and Businessperson A continue to talk on Confide about the FBI investigation. Businessperson A says they should talk in person. Englander suggests using a different phone number.
- Feb. 6: At an Englander fundraising event, Businessperson A and Englander talk about the investigation, but Englander instructs Businessperson A "you and I have never had a conversation... they are going to ask," and "you should just say 'I don't know.'" Englander also allegedly tells Businessperson A to lie and say Englander had tried multiple times to reimburse them for Vegas expenses. The indictment also alleges Englander told Businessperson A not to say anything about escorts, referring to a "massage lady." Englander said, "Don't say it...don't mention... No, no, don't mention it."
- Feb. 7: Englander interviewed by FBI a second time. He allegedly lies about whether he knew Businessperson A would be at his fundraiser, if he knew how much the Vegas bottle service cost, and if he received any other gifts.
- Feb. 12: Englander and Businessperson A meet in Englander's car. According to the indictment, Englander turns the stereo up very loud in case of listening devices and drives in circles. Englander tells the individual to lie to investigators and says "we never had a conversation." Englander also tells Businessperson A how to lie about calling the escort service in Las Vegas, ultimately deciding, "No, just say, 'I don't remember'" and "No, I didn't hire anybody." Englander finally agrees to introduce the Businessperson to his builder "friend."
- Apr. 12: Mitch Englander files his Form 700, a required financial disclosure for government officials, but omits $15,000 cash and other gifts from Businessperson A.
- July 20: FBI serves a search warrant on Google under money laundering and bribery statutes.
- The warrant asks for information contained in the Gmail account of Raymond Chan, the former head of the Los Angeles Dept. of Building and Safety (appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti) until he retired in 2016 and served for a year as a Los Angeles deputy mayor for economic development until June 2017.
- Also named: Councilman Jose Huizar, family members and other city hall aides; Councilman Curren Price; Deron Williams, chief of staff to Herb Wesson; and Joel Jacinto, a member of the city's board of public works (appointed by Garcetti).
- The warrant mentions seeking records for information on "development projects in and around Los Angeles that relate to foreign investors."
- Oceanwide Holdings and other Chinese development companies are also found in the pages of the search warrant. (Oceanwide is responsible for a large, unfinished tower across from Staples Center.)
- Oct. 11: Mitch Englander announces he's resigning to go work for a private sports lobbying firm, Oak View Group.
- Nov. 7: The FBI raids the office and home of Jose Huizar using a hard drive-sniffing dog. Agents leaving one office have a filing box labeled "Fundraising."
- Nov. 20: Mitch Englander meets with Businessperson A, according to the indictment, and discusses the FBI investigation into his Vegas and Palm Springs trips.
- Dec. 31: FBI interviews Englander a 3rd time. He allegedly lies about cash and gifts from Businessperson A, and says he can't remember ever using the Confide app.
- Dec. 31: Mitch Englander officially resigns from the city council.
- Jan. 11: Seamus Hughes with George Washington University tweets the warrant on Raymond Chan's Gmail account. This is the first chance journalists and the public have for a better understanding of how wide and deep the FBI probe into L.A. City Hall may go.
- June 4: Special primary election to fill the Council District 12 seat vacated by Mitch Englander. Former Englander chief-of-staff John Lee and scientist Loraine Lundquist qualify for the top-two runoff in August.
- Aug. 13: John Lee, former Mitch Englander chief of staff, wins the special election to fill the CD 12 seat Englander vacated in 2018.
- Mar. 3: California's presidential primary election, where John Lee runs for re-election against scientist and educator Loraine Lundquist.
- Mar. 9: A federal grand Jury indictment is unsealed, and Mitch Englander surrenders to the FBI, facing 7 counts for obstructing a federal investigation. He pleads "not guilty" and is released on $50,000 bail. His trial date is later set for May 5.
* The identity of "City Staffer B" has come under close scrutiny since the indictment's release. The Grand Jury says, along with Englander, this staffer sent a backdated check to the unnamed businessperson that was meant to look like reimbursement for Vegas travel expenses. It was mailed after both individuals became aware of the FBI investigation.
In the Grand Jury document, City Staffer B is referred to as "a high-ranking staff member for defendant ENGLANDER until approximately June 2017." Englander's chief-of-staff until June 2017 was now-Councilman John Lee, who represents the same district. Lee is not named in the indictment, but has since confirmed he went on the Las Vegas trip. On Monday, Lee said in a statement that he was unaware of any illegal activity, and cooperated "completely" with the FBI.
This story will be updated.