Former City Councilman Mitchell Englander has pleaded not guilty to obstructing an FBI investigation into him accepting cash, female escort services, hotel rooms, and expensive meals in Las Vegas and Palm Springs from an unidentified businessman. That man says he was “seeking to increase his business opportunities in the city,” and has been cooperating with the FBI and US attorney’s office.
Authorities turned their attention to Englander in 2017 after intercepting a phone call about perks the businessman gave to public officials.
This development comes in the midst of federal agents investigating a potential “pay to play” scheme at LA City Hall.
Jack Weiss, a former federal prosecutor and City Councilman for the fifth District, says that Englander’s behavior is “insane.”
“The indictment lays out a course of conduct for a rock star or a rapper's trip to Vegas, not a local official,” he tells KCRW.
Before announcing his resignation in October 2018, Englander served on influential City Council committees, including real estate development. Weiss also served on this committee during his time in office, and says its members are responsible for deciding what projects the city will approve. He says that it’s unknown how much Mitchell’s position on the committee factored into the crimes he’s charged with.
“According to the indictment, he accepted a trip to Vegas, tens of thousands of dollars of alcohol at a nightclub, and escort services. And yet it's narrow in that the actual crimes charged involve false statements he made to the FBI; and a really aggressive campaign by Englander to get other witnesses, including the key business person, to also lie to the FBI. We don't know what underlying city business was afoot,” Weiss says.
“It's interesting because you get the impression from reading this indictment -- and it's just an impression -- that perhaps the federal authorities were interested in seeking Englander's cooperation,” he adds.
Englander is free on a $50,000 bond, and is expected back in court on Thursday for a trial setting conference. His former chief of staff and current City Councilman, John Lee, has said that he was one of the staffers on a trip to Las Vegas with the unidentified businessman. He stated that he was unaware of illegal activity, and “did everything in my power to pay for and reimburse expenses related to this trip.”