Five years ago, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander took a fateful trip to Las Vegas with a clutch of businessmen and city staffers, accepting a free hotel room, expensive liquor and an envelope containing $10,000, among other things.
That trip eventually led to criminal charges, a guilty plea and a 14-month prison sentence for Englander. Although he completed that sentence, there’s one chapter left in the Vegas saga: a fine from the city’s ethics watchdog.
On Wednesday, the city’s Ethics Commission is set to vote to issue a $79,830 penalty against Englander for violating city gift laws. Agency investigators concluded that Englander, who left office in 2018, far exceeded the city’s limits on gifts to public officials, failed to fully report those gifts to the public and misused his position as a City Council member.
Englander, 52, has agreed to pay the fine as part of an agreement in which he admits he committed those violations. In 2020, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of scheming to falsify material facts, saying at the time that he took full responsibility for his actions.
Gary Winuk, an attorney representing Englander, said the agreement with the Ethics Commission should provide a “final resolution” of the legal issues created by the gifts.
“Mr. Englander’s federal case was not a corruption case. He was never indicted for, charged with, nor did he plead guilty to any corruption charges. These ethics charges similarly do not include any corruption charges,” he said in an email.
In their report on the Englander fine, ethics officials acknowledged that the former councilman expressed regret over 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 “deceive the public.”
Englander admitted lying repeatedly to federal investigators in 2017 and 2018, when he was asked about those gifts. He also admitting instructing a businessman who gave him cash to lie to FBI agents and conceal information from them.
“The violations are serious because the monetary value of the gifts received significantly exceeded the gift limit, because of the nature of the gifts, and the circumstances in which they were received,” ethics investigators wrote, “and because Englander held a particularly important position of public trust as a City Council member at the time of the violations.”
City officials are required by law to disclose any gift they receive with a value of at least $50 from a single source. In 2017, the year Englander went to Vegas, city officials also were 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 agreement that he received a combined $15,000 in cash — $10,000 in a casino bathroom in Las Vegas, plus another $5,000 at the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa near Palm Springs. In Vegas, he received an estimated $6,080 worth of food, drinks and “bottle service,” liquor served at an exorbitant price, according to Ethics Commission calculations.
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City investigators concluded that the various gifts, provided by a Chinese real estate developer and a Los Angeles businessman who sold home furnishings, exceeded the city’s gift limit by at least $21,140.17.
Councilman John Lee, who replaced Englander in 2019, also went on the Vegas trip. At the time, he was an aide to Englander. In 2020, Lee said he had fully cooperated with the federal investigation. He has not been charged with any crime and has not been issued any fines by the city’s ethics agency.
When Englander first ran for council, he campaigned as the “official public safety candidate” in the race, touting his support from the union that represents rank-and-file officers at the Los Angeles Police Department.
Under Wednesday’s penalty agreement, Englander is required to make an initial payment of $39,915 this week. The remainder must be paid by Aug. 31.