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Huizar, Englander, Who’s Next for the Feds?

DEEGAN ON LA-It seems so retro: the mix of an elected politico, booze, hookers, and envelopes of cash, but the Feds have jolted the city into the reality that dirty politicos are not an extinct species.

They have just pointed their finger at another LA City Councilmember by unsealing a grand jury indictment on Monday, March 9 that was headlined as The Corruption Investigation into The Los Angeles City Council.”   

It alleges seven counts against former CD12 Councilmember Mitch Englander, including “witness tampering, making false statements, and scheming to falsify facts.” The 49-year old Englander could be looking at 50 years behind bars in a federal prison if found guilty on all charges. If so, his next birthday at home would be his 100th, and he would have spent exactly half his life in prison. Chances are he may try to turn into a cooperating witness and offer to give up others to the Feds, but they have already turned at least one of his cronies into an informant to spew about him, so that option may be limited. 

Those cronies include what the Federal indictment against “Defendant Englander” calls: 

  • Businessperson A:Described as operating "businesses in the city relating to major development projects." 
  • City Staffer A: Described as "City Councilperson A's special assistant from June 2013 to approximately January 2018." 
  • City Staffer B: Described as a "high-ranking staff member for Englander until June 2017." 
  • Lobbyist A: Described as being registered with the city. 
  • Lobbyist B: Described as "a close associate of Englander." 
  • Developer A: Described as a "real estate developer and architect who operated his own architectural, planning and development firm." 
  • Developer B:Described as the "chief executive officer and owner of a construction company" in LA.

In time, we will know their real names. Englander faces a May 5 trial in front of U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, where 15 witnesses  are expected to be called, including the people identified only as Staffer A, Staffer B, and Businessman A in the indictment. 

The allegations include: 

  • $10,000 cash in an envelope handed to Englander by Businessperson A in a Las Vegas casino bathroom. 
  • $5,000 cash in an envelope handed to Englander by Businessperson A in the bathroom of the Morongo Casino. 
  • $300-$400 for two escorts. 
  • $2,500 bill for dinner and drinks with a lobbyist, developer and businessperson. 
  • $24,000 for bottle service on occasion paid for by Businessperson A. 
  • $10,000 for bottle service paid on the same night by Developer B. 
  • Englander introduced Businessperson A to Developer B at a lunch. 

One connected name has surfaced already: Councilmember John Lee (CD12) who was Englander’s chief of staff and succeeded him as Councilmember when Englander abruptly quit after, it has now been reported, he learned he was on the Fed’s radar. John Lee has “voluntarily and fully cooperated”  with the Feds, said a spokesperson. 

The federal indictment contains garden variety corruption and influencing charges (envelopes of cash, Vegas gambling chips, lavish dinners and bar tabs, and female escorts) provided by someone wanting to do business with the city, and serves to reinforce the public perception that City Hall’s “pay to play” culture is like a sinkhole on top of a sewer. Englander joins his council colleague Jose Huizar (CD14) as a target from this culture that permeates local politics. 

The Huizar FBI probe is allegedly investigating “an array of potential crimes,” including bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering involving 13 people. Some of the boldface names connected with this include Councilman Curren Price (CD9) and Deron Williams, chief of staff to Councilmember Herb Wesson (CD10). 

Speaking about the Englander indictment, a Los Angeles Times editorial succinctly describes the “longstanding perception that L.A. City Hall is tainted by cozy relationships and pay-to-play politics. . .the indictment reads like a seedy novel.” It’s the story of politics in LA.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appears in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.