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Much More Than Mitch Englander

LA WATCHDOG--“One day, hopefully, sooner or later, we’ll knock down the new coronavirus that’s got people rattled.  But there is no vaccine for the virus that infects City Hall.”  Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2020 

The shoe finally dropped, but not on Jose Huizar whose offices and home were raided by the FBI in November of 2018, but on Mitch Englander, a former member of the City Council who was caught with his pants down taking cash and other favors from a businessman seeking an introduction to a big time real estate developer. 

But in Englander’s case, the coverup is worse than the crime as the Feds are going after him for lying to the FBI and the United States Attorney, witness tampering, and the obstruction of justice, not for taking $15,000 in cash under the table or being wined, dined, and serviced in Las Vegas at cost exceeding $35,000. 

Ironically, Englander did not use his position on the City Council or on the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee (“PLUM Committee”) to benefit Andrew Wang, the businessman identified by the Los Angeles Times. 

The major takeaway from the Englander indictment is that the City of Los Angeles is a corrupt enterprise as evidenced by the following quote on the first page of the indictment. 

“The FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office were conducting a federal criminal investigation into public corruption throughout the City of Los Angeles related to multiple suspected “pay-to-play” schemes.  The Federal investigations involved multiple City officials, developers, investors, consultants, lobbyists, and other close associates working in furtherance of the potentially illegal schemes.” 

This is consistent with previous federal search warrants filed around the time of the FBI raid on Huizar’s offices and home where agents were “seeking evidence of potential crimes including bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering involving more than a dozen people, including city officials and business figures.” 

In any ordinary enterprise, there would be a full scale investigation with lawyers and forensic accountants crawling all over the place.  But not in the City of Los Angeles because the elected officials and political establishment are the actual culprits benefitting from the “pay-to-play” corruption. 

When the Planning Department, the Area Planning Commissions and the City Planning Commission (whose members are appointed by the Mayor), the City Council’s PLUM Committee, and the City Council agree to up zone a property, huge incremental value is created for the landowner and the real estate developer.  But this increase in value does not go unnoticed by the occupants of City Hall.  In turn, they expect to share in the increase in value (say 10%) through campaign contributions and other benefits, including the funding of their pet projects, gifts to their favorite charities and organizations, including the Mayor’s Fund, the Democratic Party, and the campaign war chests of other machine politicians and ballot measures. 

The Mayor and the Herb Wesson led City Council have consistently thwarted reform, diluting efforts to reform the campaign finance laws and regulations and refusing to even consider an Office of Transparency and Accountability, even though it was endorsed by the LA 2020 Commission and then City Council President Herb Wesson. 

Nury Martinez, the new President of the City Council, needs to flex her reform muscles by authorizing an independent, well financed, no holds barred analysis of the City’s “pay-to-play” corruption as well as endorsing rigorous campaign finance reform. 

Otherwise, Angelenos, who do not trust City Hall, can voice their disgust by voting NO on any ballot measure that tries to pick our pockets, including the Split Roll in November that will cost Californians an estimated $12 billion.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw