LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander pleaded not guilty Monday following his arrest on federal corruption charges in connection with an ongoing FBI probe into alleged “pay-to-play” schemes involving officials at City Hall.
Englander, 49, of Santa Monica, was granted a $50,000 bond at his initial appearance in Los Angeles federal court following his surrender to federal authorities Monday morning on allegations he accepted thousands of dollars in cash, a female escort and expensive hotel rooms from an unnamed businessman during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs — and then tried to cover it up — the U.S. Attorney’s Office reported Monday.
The charges were in connection with an ongoing FBI investigation into possible “pay to play” bribery schemes involving L.A. city officials and major real estate developers.
At the time, Englander was on the city council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which overseas and approves major real estate projects.
On Jan. 16, a federal grand jury charged Englander with one count of participating in a scheme to falsify material facts, and three counts each of making false statements and witness tampering.
Englander was set to be released on $50,000 bond, but he’s due back in court Thursday for a trial-setting conference.
He was also asked to surrender all seven weapons believed to be inside Englander’s home, according to CBSLA’s Dave Lopez.
The businessman in question, who has cooperated with FBI investigators, was not identified.
Englander represented the San Fernando Valley’s 12th District from 2011 to December 2018, when he abruptly stepped down despite having two years remaining on his term. He said he left to take a position as vice president of Oak View Group, a sports and entertainment advisory, development and investment company.
According to prosecutors, Englander accepted the thousands of dollars in bribes during two June 2017 trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs from a businessman who was looking to “increase business opportunities in the city.”
On a trip to Las Vegas, Englander accepted a $10,000 cash payment, $1,000 in casino gambling chips, $34,000 in bottle service at a nightclub, a $2,481 dinner and female escort services, the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Englander was accompanied on the trip by two staffers, a lobbyist and another real estate developer, authorities said.
Then, on a second trip to Palm Springs for a golf tournament later that month, Englander accepted $5,000 in cash from the same businessman in exchange with arranging a meeting with another real estate developer friend of his, prosecutors allege.
In August of 2017, when Englander learned that the FBI had launched an investigation into pay for play schemes involving L.A. officials, he reached out to the businessman and attempted to pay the money back, prosecutors said.
On numerous subsequent interviews with the FBI, including one on Dec. 31, 2018 — the day he resigned from the city council — Englander lied to FBI agents about his involvement in the scheme, authorities said.
For more than a year, the FBI has been investigating possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes as part of a corruption investigation at L.A. City Hall focusing on huge real estate investments from Chinese companies.
In November of 2018, the FBI raided the home and offices of current L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar as part of its investigation. Huizar has not yet been arrested and remains in office despite calls to resign.
In December, partly in response to the Huizar case, the L.A. City Council unanimously passed an ordinance which bans real estate developers from contributing to political candidates running for city office.
In July 2019, meanwhile, FBI agents also raided the downtown offices of the L.A. Department of Water and Power.
Englander faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison if convicted as charged.