Ex-Councilman Mitch Englander fined $80K for violating LA gift laws
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander was fined nearly $80,000 by the city’s Ethics Commission Wednesday for violating city gift laws.
Englander — who represented District 12 in the San Fernando Valley from July 2011 until he resigned three years ago — already completed a 14-month sentence for trying to obstruct an investigation into bribery allegations in City Hall politics.
Englander was served an Ethics Commission accusation last December, charging him with two counts of accepting excess gifts, one count of misusing a city position and two counts of failing to disclose gifts.
“I think what we’re doing today is a very significant process at this point,” said Jeffery Daar, vice president of the commission. “The proposed stipulation demonstrates that no one, including elected council members, are above the law in this city.”
The 52-year-old ex-councilman was fined $79,830 on Wednesday, with officials claiming he did not consult the commission about how to comply with the law and committed actions that were “deliberate and indicate an intent to conceal the violations and deceive the public.”
The commission voted 4-0 to impose the fine.
Gary Winuk, Englander’s attorney, said in a statement after the vote that Englander was “relieved that this latest action by the Ethics Commission adds closure and finality.”
“Similar to the federal case, Mr. Englander was not charged with corruption, pay to play, or using his position as a councilman to take any wrongful action related to these charges,” Winuk said. “He has been rebuilding his life by volunteering with a local re-entry program and continuing his commitment to public service by helping others put their lives on the right track.”
Englander has agreed to pay the fine, according to a stipulation he signed July 21 that stated he was responsible for paying half the fine before Wednesday. The amount was held over until the commission approved the order. Englander must pay the remainder of the fine by the end of the month.
“These are very serious charges,” Commissioner Manjusha Kulkarni said. “I hope that individuals in the public know that we take them seriously.”
At Englander’s January 2021 sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge John Walter said “greed and arrogance” appeared to be the motivation for lying to the FBI repeatedly on three separate occasions and that Englander had damaged “the public’s trust in government.”
The judge said the defendant apparently believed his position of trust would protect him from being caught, and if he was charged, “the consequences won’t be significant.”
In a statement to the court, Englander admitted he had “shattered” his own reputation and said he did not fully understand what drove him to give false information to federal investigators.
Englander, of Santa Monica, admitted to scheming to cover up $15,000 in cash payments, costly meals and other gifts offered to him by a businessman seeking to increase his opportunities in the city. He pleaded guilty to scheming to falsify material facts, a federal charge carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Among his other duties, Englander served as the council president pro tempore and was a member of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which oversees many of the city’s biggest commercial and residential development projects.
Englander was a “powerful and wealthy Los Angeles city council member who swore an oath to serve the interests of his constituents,” prosecutors wrote. “He swore another oath as a reserve officer with the Los Angeles Police Department to uphold and protect the law. Instead, (he) illicitly cashed in on his status as a purported public servant in casino bathrooms and through VIP bottle service, luxury dinners, and behind hotel room doors.”
Prosecutors wrote in advance of Englander’s sentencing hearing that over “numerous incidents of escalating corruption and self-preservation, defendant sold out both oaths, cheaply and repeatedly. After resigning in the middle of his term after he was questioned in the instant investigation, defendant successfully parlayed his government service into a lucrative private practice position as a government consultant with a major entertainment company.”
Two months after a Las Vegas trip with Englander and others in 2017, the businessman began cooperating with the FBI in an investigation focused on suspected pay-to-play schemes involving Los Angeles public officials — including ex-Councilman Jose Huizar — and made secret recordings of Englander’s interactions with him, federal prosecutors said.