LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander was arrested today on federal charges of lying to the FBI during a probe of his alleged acceptance of cash, female escort services, hotel rooms and meals from a businessman during trips to Las Vegas and Cabazon.
Englander, 49, of Santa Monica, pleaded not guilty and was granted a $50,000 bond at his initial appearance in Los Angeles federal court following his surrender to FBI agents Monday morning. A trial-setting conference was scheduled for Thursday morning.
Englander was named in a seven-count grand jury indictment handed down in January and faces one count of scheming to falsify material facts, three counts of making false statements and three counts of witness tampering. He faces up to 50 years in federal prison if convicted of all charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Englander's attorney Janet Levine said in a statement that her client is ``proud of the work he has done to serve his community as both a volunteer reserve police officer and a public official. Despite this setback, with the support of his family and friends, he looks forward to continuing his lifelong contributions to the community that has given him so much.''
Federal authorities allege Englander was trying cover up his acceptance of cash and other services from an unidentified businessman who ``operated companies in Los Angeles relating to major development projects and sought to increase his business opportunities in the city.'' He allegedly accepted the cash and services during June 2017 trips to Las Vegas and the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, near Palm Springs.
The businessman subsequently began cooperating with federal agents investigating ``pay-to-play'' allegations at Los Angeles City Hall, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Federal prosecutors contend that during the trip to Las Vegas, on which Englander was accompanied by two city staffers, a lobbyist and a real estate developer, the businessman handed Englander an envelope containing $10,000 in cash in a casino bathroom. The businessman also gave Englander $1,000 in casino chips, which the councilman returned after he spent some time gambling, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors claim in the indictment that the businessman paid $2,481 for dinner and drinks for Englander, his four traveling companions and others. The businessman also paid about $24,000 for bottle service for the group at a nightclub, while the developer on the trip paid another $10,000 for bottle service at the same nightclub, according to the indictment. When the group returned to the hotel, the businessman paid between $300 and $400 for two female escorts, one of whom he sent to Englander's hotel room ``to provide him with services,'' according to the indictment.
The day after the trip, one of the city staffers on the trip sent a text message to the businessman thanking him ``for the enjoyable Las Vegas trip,'' according to the indictment.
The city staffers on the trip were not identified -- only describing one as Englander's special assistant from roughly June 2013 to January 2018 and the other as a ``high-ranking staff member'' for Englander until June 2017.
City Councilman John Lee, who now represents the same district as Englander, confirmed he was one of the city staffers on the Las Vegas trip. Lee was Englander's chief of staff at the time.
``I did everything in my power to pay for and reimburse expenses related to this trip,'' Lee said in a statement to City News Service. ``I was unaware of any illegal activities for which council member Englander is being charged. I completely cooperated with the FBI when they contacted me for voluntary interviews in July and August 2017 and will continue to do so."
The indictment also alleges Englander accepted $5,000 in cash -- again in an envelope handed over in a casino bathroom -- during a June 12, 2017, golf tournament trip to the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. Roughly one week later, Englander facilitated a lunch with the businessman to introduce him to another developer, so the businessman could present his company and product, according to the indictment.
Englander -- who served on the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee -- resigned from his District 12 seat on the City Council at the end of 2018, after serving for seven years. He resigned in the middle of his term, saying he was moving to a job in the private sector.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, for more than a year before his resignation, Englander ``knowingly and willfully falsified and concealed material facts pertaining to this federal public corruption investigation.'' After learning of the FBI probe in August 2017, Englander allegedly began contacting the businessman privately in an effort to reimburse him for some of the Las Vegas expenses, prosecutors said. He also allegedly tried to convince the businessman to lie to federal investigators -- including once when Englander met with the businessman in his car and turned up the stereo volume in an effort to obstruct any possible listening devices.
Prosecutors allege Englander made multiple false statements to the FBI, including during a meeting with federal agents the day after he stepped down from the council.
His arrest comes amid an ongoing corruption probe at City Hall centered on relationships between elected officials and well-heeled developers. In November 2018, FBI agents searched City Councilman Jose Huizar's City Hall and field offices, along with his home, as part of the probe focusing on major real estate investments in the downtown area by Chinese companies. Huizar was chairman of the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee at the time. Huizar was never arrested or charged with a crime.