Former Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitchell Englander has become the first person sentenced to prison in the pay-to-play corruption scandal focused on City Hall.
On Monday, a judge sentenced Englander to 14 months in federal prison for accepting cash bribes from a developer who had business with and projects in the city, federal authorities. In addition to the year-plus in prison, Englander must pay a $15,000 fine, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison, which announced the sentencing.
Prosecutors have charged nine other people and two developers in the so-called “Operation Casino Loyale,” including the alleged mastermind, former City Councilmember Jose Huizar. Huizar has pleaded not guilty to 41 criminal counts involving racketeering and fraud, with a criminal trial set for June.
Former U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna, who led the L.A. office since 2018 and had prosecuted the corruption case from the beginning, stepped down Jan. 8.
The FBI arrested Englander last year and by March he agreed to plea guilty to obstructing the investigation. He resigned from his Council seat in fall 2018, shortly after authorities raided Huizar’s home and office in the early days of the probe.
Englander, who pleaded guilty last March, received more than $30,000 in cash, female escort services, hotel rooms, wine bottles and meals from an unidentified real estate developer. The developer “operated companies in Los Angeles pertaining to major developments and sought to increase his business opportunities in the city,” according to prosecutors.
When the FBI began questioning Englander later in 2017, he falsified documents and spent months telling the developer not to cooperate with authorities and to lie about the gifts. Unbeknownst to the ex-public servant, the developer was cooperating with the FBI and recording their conversations.
Federal prosecutors recommended Englander be sentenced to 24 months in prison, pay $45,000 and complete 300 hours of community service. They argued last week that a sentence without jail time would represent a “two-tier system of justice” that treats white-collar criminals more leniently than others.
Authorities maintain Huizar — who led the Council’s powerful planning and land use committee — and his associates ran a criminal enterprise from his office. In all, prosecutors say Huizar accepted cash and other bribes worth $1.5 million from developers in exchange for helping shephard through development projects in Downtown L.A.
In December, Huizar, former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Raymond Chan and a developer pleaded not guilty to their alleged roles in the operation.
Earlier this month, developer Carmel Partners agreed to pay a $1.2 million fine to avoid prosecution for three years for its alleged role in the bribery scheme. The firm recently changed its name to CP Employers.