Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander began serving his 14-month sentence this week at the Tucson U.S. Penitentiary for planning to obstruct a public corruption investigation.
Englander, who served as Chief of Staff to then-Councilman Greig Smith from 2003 to 2009 and as a Los Angeles City Councilman representing several San Fernando Valley cities from 2011 until his resignation in December 2018, had first been accused of wrongdoing in 2017 while still serving as a Councilman.
According to the U.S. v. Englander indictment, Englander had been paid to visit Los Vegas and Palm Springs in June 2017 by people lobbying for the city. During the Las Vegas trip between June 1 and June 2, Englander and some city staffers received rooms, limo rides, escort services, some casino chips, a $2,400 dinner, and a $34,000 nightclub experience. He is also alleged to have been given an envelope with $10,000 in cash in the casino’s bathroom.
Less than two weeks later in Palm Springs, Englander allegedly was given another envelope of money in a bathroom, this time with $5,000 inside.
The FBI subsequently questioned him several times in 2017 and 2018 before finally bringing charges against him. An indictment was issued to Englander in 2020, with Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, former Huizar aide George Esparza, and former deputy Mayor Raymond Chan also receiving bribery, racketeering, and other similar charges during the same FBI investigation. Englander’s grand jury indictment specifically charged him with one count of participating in a scheme to falsify material facts, three counts of making false statements, and three counts of witness tampering. While initially quiet, the matter became public in March 2020 following Englander’s surrender to the FBI. He then pled guilty in July, taking a plea deal to only be sentenced on a felony count of scheming to falsify material facts.
Englander was subsequently sentenced to 14 months in prison in January. Englander’s lawyer attempted to get him home confinement with no prison time, but U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter instead ordered 14 months in a federal prison and to pay a $15,000 fine – the same amount Englander was accused of taking in bribes.
By the time Englander was told to report this week for prison at the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, his sentence had gone slightly down in terms of time to serve.
“He has a projected release date of May 28, 2022,” said Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Scott Taylor on Wednesday.
Englander was only the first of those indicted by the FBI to go to prison, with many, including Huizar and his 34-count RICO case, yet to be sentenced.
“The FBI grabbed a lot of top LA people,” explained Los Angeles lawyer Thomas Cruz Jr. to the Globe on Wednesday. “Englander is just the first big name to walk into a prison, and he’s only doing a year. A lot of these other people have a lot bigger figures attached to them. Huizar alone has about $1.5 million in alleged bribes attached to him right now. Englander is more like the appetizer or amuse bouche compared to the rest. We’re going to see a lot more as the year continues.”
Others in the FBI probe are expected to have indictments, trials, and possible plea deals progress throughout 2021.