Englander now faces L.A. city ethics charges

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has accused former Councilman Mitchell Englander of violating city ethics laws by accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from a businessman and a developer during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs and not adequately reporting them.

The charges, announced Thursday, come more than a year after Englander pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities investigating the corruption case and was sentenced to prison.

The Ethics Commission charged Englander with two counts of accepting excess gifts, one count of misusing a city position, and two counts of failing to disclose gifts, and could fine him up to $136,071. An administrative hearing will be held before the commissioners decide whether the alleged violations occurred and what penalties should apply.

Englander was the first person to be charged by federal authorities in a far-reaching probe of corruption at L.A. City Hall that has since yielded guilty pleas from two real estate consultants, a lobbyist and a council aide. Former Councilman Jose Huizar awaits trial on charges that include bribery and racketeering.

Gary Winuk, Englander’s attorney, said in a statement that the city’s “main allegation — that Mr. Englander misused his city position — is unsupported by the facts and the law.”

“The federal Judge who oversaw Mr. Englander’s criminal case explicitly found that there was no quid pro quo and no evidence that Mr. Englander misused his city position in committing the offenses for which he has already been accused,” Winuk said. “The Ethics Commission’s accusation contains the very allegations that already have been rejected by the federal judge who ruled in Mr. Englander’s case and found no evidence of these charges.”

As part of his 2020 plea deal, Englander admitted lying to prosecutors and FBI agents during three interviews in 2017 and 2018 about his interactions with an unnamed businessman who later became a government informant.

When the unnamed businessman handed the then-councilman an envelope stuffed with $10,000 in cash in a Las Vegas casino bathroom during a 2017 trip, Englander may have violated a section of Los Angeles Municipal Code, according to the Ethics Commission.

City law prohibits elected officials from accepting more than a certain amount in gifts from a single source and dictates that those gifts be properly recorded on state financial disclosure forms. The dollar-value gift limit was $470 in 2017, according to the Ethics Commission.

The cash, high-rolling nightclub “bottle service” tab, casino chips and other freebies Englander accepted from the businessman — which he acknowledged receiving as part of his federal plea agreement — far exceeded that gift limit. The limit was further exceeded when the businessman gave Englander another cash-filled envelope in a Palm Springs casino bathroom a few weeks later.

When he filed his financial disclosure forms the next year, Englander “significantly underreported” the gifts given to him by the businessman and allegedly failed to disclose another hefty bottle service tab paid for by a developer during the night of partying, according to the Ethics Commission accusation.

“Englander went on a trip, the value of which he knew exceeded the gift limit, instead of talking business in Los Angeles. He received cash gifts in secret in casino bathrooms. … He did not report the gifts on his Form 700 as required by law,” according to the filing.

The filing also notes that Englander completed the city’s mandatory ethics training on at least four occasions.

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