tps://twitter.com/a_mendelson/status/1275499314127626240?s=20">Unfortunately [City Hall's] grand exterior has concealed a cancer: A disease of elected officials and staff members breaking a series of laws, in order to line their own pockets, maintain power, and keep open a spigot of illicit bribes and other benefits."
- U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna
The growing scandal surrounding Los Angeles City Hall has so far resulted in three guilty pleas including one from Mitch Englander, a former member of the City Council. Current council member Jose Huizar has also been indicted on charges related to the investigation. Huizar's former "aide George Esparza reached his own plea deal, affirming that a Chinese billionaire planning a 77-story skyscraper provided him and the councilman with trips to Las Vegas and other bribes". The FBI investigation has "been quietly underway since 2015" and is "ongoing".
One question that remains unanswered by investigators is the exact role City Councilmember John Lee played in events that led to the conviction of Englander, who is his former boss. Lee admitted to attending the trip to Las Vegas with both Englander and Esparza that resulted in Englander's conviction. As an employee of the city, Lee was obligated to report any gifts that he received during this trip, but it is not clear that he did so. The Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council, therefore, considered a resolution on June 4, 2020, "asking the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission for an investigation (if they have not done so already) into Councilmember John Lee's participation in and subsequent actions following the June 2017 Las Vegas trip that resulted in [the] indictment of and [the] subsequent guilty plea by former Councilmember Mitch Englander". There are reports that the resolution passed, but the official minutes of the meeting are not posted on the council's website.
John Lee @CD12LA admitted to being on the Las Vegas trip where Mitch Englander engaged in corrupt actions. Englande… https://t.co/Id1vinEJTs at https://t.co/Id1vinEJTs— Carlos Amador (@amadorlara) July 11, 2020
Lee, who ironically ran as "the only choice of law enforcement", has refused to confirm or deny that he is "City Staffer B" as named in Englander's indictment. This has important implications for the case because the person who is "City Staffer B" engaged in potentially criminal activities. According to the indictment, whose facts have been confirmed by Englander:
- "Businessman A, in front of the group, provided defendant ENGLANDER and the rest of the group casino chips with which to gamble." In the best-case scenario, City Staffer B was a witness to bribery. If he accepted the chips, then he received a bribe.
- Included in a package sent by Englander was a "$442 check (check number 1095) from City Staffer B payable to Businessperson A which also bore a date of August 4, 2017." This package was received by Businessperson A on September 14, 2017, and included a note indicating that "the checks were for 'Vegas expenses'". Since City Staffer B and Englander had already been interviewed by the FBI, the use of post-dated checks could indicate an attempt to cover up the crime of receiving benefits from Businessperson A without reporting them.
- At a meeting on October 4, 2017, Englander told Businessperson A that City Staffer B had told him "to tell the FBI that defendant ENGLANDER had received casino chips from Businessperson A, but that defendant ENGLANDER had returned those chips after gambling". If true, this was an attempt to coordinate testimonies, which could be considered obstruction of justice.
During public comment of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council (NENC) Executive Committee meeting on July 6, 2020, stakeholders requested that the council ask John Lee to reveal if he is "City Staffer B". As a result, the Executive Committee voted 3-1-0 to place the following item on the agenda for the meeting on Wednesday, July 15:
Due to COVID-19, the NENC meeting will be held virtually by Zoom. Information on how to listen to the meeting or to make your voice heard through public comment is as follows:
The agenda for the complete meeting can be found on the NENC web site.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.