Posted on: January 26, 2021, 02:00h.
Last updated on: January 26, 2021, 02:00h.
A former Los Angeles City Councilman who accepted cash bribes, escort services, hotel rooms, and meals in Las Vegas and Palm Springs before lying about them to the FBI, was sentenced to 14 months in prison on Monday.
US District Judge John F. Walter said Mitch Englander, 50, had “totally lost his moral compass.” He also fined him $15,000, the same amount the defendant accepted in cash kickbacks from an unnamed businessman during a wild night in Las Vegas in June 2017.
The businessman hoped Englander would introduce him to contacts who might be interested in mobile technology he had developed to remotely adjust household electronics. Later, he became a government informant and made incriminating recordings of his conversations with Englander.
Public Confidence Shaken
When Englander learned that he was the subject of an FBI investigation, he contacted the businessman and tried to pay back some of the money, even issuing a backdated check to make it look like it had been paid earlier.
As part of his plea deal, Englander admitted lying about his actions to prosecutors and FBI agents during three subsequent interviews in 2017 and 2018.
Walter said that a custodial sentence had been necessary to “restor[e] public confidence in our local government at a time when many people are questioning it.”
Englander’s transgressions were uncovered inadvertently by agents investigating a wider “pay to play” corruption scheme, allegedly masterminded by another LA City councilman, Jose Huizar.
Huizar and others are accused of accepting bribes from property developers in return for favorable treatment on downtown real-estate development projects.
That investigation was triggered in 2015 when authorities in Las Vegas noticed Huizar cashing out large amounts of money in casino chips belonging to Chinese billionaire property developer and high roller Wei Huang.
Wei is chairman of the Shenzhen New World Group, which wanted to redevelop the LA Grand Hotel Downtown into a new 77-story hotel tower, the tallest skyscraper west of Mississippi.
But he needed Huizar to greenlight the project. He is accused of showering more than $800,000 on Huizar and others during numerous trips to Las Vegas casinos. Both men face bribery and racketeering charges.
Also awaiting trial is Huizar’s former special assistant, George Esparza, who is also accused of receiving kickbacks from the unnamed businessman in the Englander case. FBI agents launched their investigation into Englander, a former Huizar aide, after they heard Huizar and Esparza discussing the offering of prostitutes to Englander and Esparza in Las Vegas.