LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander plead guilty Tuesday to federal charges for his role in an ongoing “pay-to-play” scheme in which major real estate developers bribed L.A. City Hall officials.
The 49-year-old Englander — who represented L.A. Council District 12 in the San Fernando Valley from July 2011 until his resignation in December of 2018 – plead guilty in downtown L.A. federal court to one count of scheming to falsify material facts.
He faces up to five years in federal prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 28. However, prosecutors are recommending no more than three years as part of his plea deal, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The FBI has so far arrested five people as part of its corruption investigation into bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes at City Hall involving huge real estate investments from Chinese companies. Four of the fivehave agreed to plea guilty.
The fifth and most high profile arrest came late last month, when current L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested on charges that he accepted a combined $1.5 million in bribes.
Huizar is set to be arraigned July 20.
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.
Englander reached a plea deal with prosecutors in late March, just a few weeks after he was arrested on one count of participating in a scheme to falsify material facts, and three counts each of making false statements and witness tampering.
Englander purportedly accepted thousands of dollars in cash, a female escort and expensive hotel rooms from an unnamed businessman during two June 2017 trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs — and then tried to cover it up.
In December 2018, Englander 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.
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.
Meanwhile, the 51-year-old Huizar was arrested at his Boyle Heights home June 23 on one count of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Prosecutors say one real estate developer gave Huizar half-a-million in cash in paper bags to help resolve a labor dispute.
Furthermore, Huizar was provided more than a dozen trips to casinos in the U.S. and abroad in which he was given $250,000 in gambling chips.
A Chinese real estate developer put up $600,000 in collateral so that Huizar could get a bank loan to pay off a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment, the complaint alleges. When Huizar stopped making payments on the loan, the collateral was used to pay off the remainder of the loan.
Real estate development consultant George Chiang pleaded guilty June 26 to a federal racketeering charge for playing a role in a scheme allegedly run by Huizar in which a Chinese real estate company bribed city officials in exchange for approval to build a 77-story skyscraper in the councilman’s district. The judge is expected to sentence him on Feb. 22.
Also last month, former City Hall fundraiser Justin Kim pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge for helping a real estate developer pay off Huizar for help with a major development project. Kim’s sentencing hearing is also scheduled for Feb. 22.
Former Huizar aide George Esparza has agreed to plead guilty on July 22 to the racketeering conspiracy count and has been cooperating in the investigation.
In July 2019, FBI agents also raided the downtown offices of the L.A. Department of Water and Power. It’s unclear if that raid is linked to the corruption investigation.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)