LA counselor who went to jail now faces ethics fine

Five years ago, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander made a fateful trip to Las Vegas with a group of businessmen and city employees, accepting a free hotel room, expensive alcohol and an envelope containing $10,000, among other things.

This trip ultimately led to criminal charges, a guilty plea and a 14-month prison sentence for Englander. Although he finished that sentence, there remains one chapter in the Vegas saga: a fine from the city’s ethics watchdog.

The city’s ethics commission is due to vote on Wednesday to fine Englander $79,830 for violating the city’s gift laws. Agency investigators concluded that Englander, who left office in 2018, far exceeded city limits on gifts to public officials, failed to fully report such gifts to the public, and abused his position of member of the municipal council.

Englander, 52, agreed to pay the fine as part of a settlement in which he admits to committing these breaches. In 2020, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to falsify material facts, saying at the time that he took full responsibility for his actions.

Gary Winuk, a lawyer representing Englander, said the deal with the ethics commission should provide a “final resolution” to the legal issues created by the gifts.

“Mr. Englander’s federal case was not a bribery case. He was never charged, indicted, and never pleaded guilty to any bribery charges. Likewise, these ethics charges n ‘include any bribery charges,’ he said in an email.

In their report on Englander’s fine, ethics officials acknowledged that the former councilor had expressed regret for his actions. But they said he should have been well aware of city and state laws regarding gifts. They also said his actions indicated an intent to “mislead the public”.

Englander admitted to repeatedly lying to federal investigators in 2017 and 2018 when asked about the gifts. He also admitted to asking a businessman who gave him money to lie to FBI agents and withhold information from them.

“The violations are serious because the monetary value of the gifts received significantly exceeded the gift limit, due to the nature of the gifts and the circumstances in which they were received,” the ethics investigators wrote, “and because Englander held a particularly high position of public trust as a member of the city council at the time of the breaches.

City officials are required by law to disclose any gift they receive worth at least $50 from a single source. In 2017, the year Englander visited Vegas, city officials were also prohibited from accepting more than $470 in gifts from a single source.

Englander, who represented the northwest San Fernando Valley from 2011 to 2018, admitted in his plea deal that he received a total of $15,000 in cash – $10,000 in a bathroom from casino in Las Vegas, plus an additional $5,000 at the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa near Palm Springs. In Vegas, he received an estimated $6,080 worth of food, drink and “bottle service,” alcohol served at an exorbitant price, according to calculations by the Ethics Commission.

City investigators concluded that the various gifts, given by a Chinese real estate developer and a Los Angeles businessman who sold household furniture, exceeded the city’s gift limit by at least $21,140.17 $.

Councilor John Lee, who replaced Englander in 2019, also made the trip to Vegas. At the time, he was Englander’s assistant. In 2020, Lee said he fully cooperated with the federal investigation. He was not charged with any crime and received no fines from the city’s ethics agency.

When Englander first ran for council, he campaigned as an ‘official public safety nominee’ in the race, touting his support for the union that represents rank-and-file officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. .

Under Wednesday’s penalty agreement, Englander must make an initial payment of $39,915 this week. The rest must be paid before August 31.

Los Angeles Times

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