Friday, January 28, 2022

Column: DWP Scandal – Black Label for Los Angeles Leaders

At the carnival of greed and corruption in Los Angeles, we don’t stop there.

Second stringers settle for bronze or silver; champions go for gold.

I did not plan to write today about the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy, which has reappeared in the news with a bribery and kickback plea deal that has reached DWP senior management.

I was busy with other things. Specifically, I dug into city records indicating that each of the 18 Los Angeles firefighters paid over $ 500,000 between January and September of this year, including overtime and benefits.

Not bad since Christmas is still ahead.

But then I got distracted by the head-spinning story of the Times scribes Kevin Rector and Richard Winton, about a Los Angeles Police Academy gun shop manager accused of stealing weapons from a store and selling them to, among other things, police officers.

Yes indeed. And thanks in part to an apparent lack of oversight by the LAPD, the case now concerns “allegations of criminal activity, misconduct and corruption by officers and commanders.”

All, of course, good, seductive feed, and we’re just six weeks suspended from corruption charges against Los Angeles City Councilor Mark Ridley-Thomas – a one-time mayoral candidate – who denies the charges against him.

But these things can be kept in the closet. I feel a special loyalty to the DWP scandal because it is, of course, DWP. And because I will never forget my 2015 visit to the Van Nuys condominium as a couple who got into their mailbox and found a bill of 51,649.32 DWP.

Savely and Stella Goreshter, Russian immigrants who were intimidated by the prospect of losing their home and all their possessions in order to pay the bill, told me they were wondering if DWP had made an accounting error.

They were told this was not a chance. The DWP clerk suggested they might have a leaky toilet.

Something was leaking, but it was not the Goreshter toilet. It was the last drop of taxpayer confidence in DWP, which survived the seemingly endless billing fiasco.

DWP’s plan to overhaul the agency’s billing system turned into sheer disaster when thousands of customers were over-billed or not billed at all. From that soufflé came a class action settlement filed by taxpayers – a settlement that was suspicious from the start, and at the time the lawyers told me something smelled wrong. Essentially, critics argued that taxpayers got tough while the city hired lawyers to sort out the mess exposed as thugs.

Did I say bandits?

In the latest twist this week, reported by Dakota Smith and Julia Vick, the attorney caught in the middle of the debacle agreed to plead guilty to bribery under a kickback scheme and is collaborating with prosecutors in an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

The intricate details of the case create a mess that is not easy to clean up. It kind of reminds you of the movie Chinatown, a masterpiece of crime, in which you take time to connect the dots on Los Angeles’s expansive map of intent curves.

But in essence, City Atty. Mike Feyer’s office hired attorney Paul Paradis to represent the city in the DWP billing disaster lawsuit, and Paradis somehow managed to end up representing both the city and the main plaintiff against the city.

It’s not entirely possible, but institutional Los Angeles is opening its arms wide to manipulation and deception, right?

According to court records, Paradis went to an Ohio lawyer who received about $ 10 million in the deal and returned almost $ 2.2 million to Paradis. In addition to working with the city attorney, Paradis was able to secure a $ 30 million DWP contract.

He agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery and is cooperating with the federal prosecutor’s office, which bodes badly for anyone, even the peripheral involved. In particular, the court documents feature former DWP CEO David Wright, who was supposed to receive a salary of $ 1 million and a Mercedes SL 550 car to work for a company controlled by Paradis.

Wright, appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, was thrown in his ear following an FBI raid on DWP and City Attorney’s Office in 2019. An unnamed DWP board member is also charged with conspiracy to take bribes in court documents. A lawyer representing former board member Bill Vanderberk denied any wrongdoing by his client.

“I am immensely outraged that someone would violate their responsibilities to the communities we serve, as reflected in this plea agreement,” said Foyer, whose attempt to become mayor has just hit a bump that may have thrown away him from the caravan. “As government officials, honesty should be our watchword, our guiding principle.”

Nicely worded, but what is this phrase about such situations? If Fejer knew what was going on, that was bad. If he didn’t know, it’s even worse.

“I think he’s probably toast,” Jack Humphreville, a longtime city hall watchdog, said of Fejer’s chances of becoming mayor. “He can demand whatever he wants, but it was under his control, that’s all.”

Humphreville pointed out that oversight of DWP is largely vested in Garcetti, who appoints board members.

“This is another black mark on the Garcetti administration,” Humphreville said.

Jamie Sood of Consumer Watchdog followed this case from the beginning, right up to the moment he filed complaints from DWP taxpayers about overbilling. If all of the latest accusations are correct, Court said, “The DWP chief’s bribe and the ease with which a few corrupt people took Los Angeles for a walk again makes it look like we never left Chinatown.”

The court stated that the city council, mayor, DWP board, and taxpayer advocate failed to protect the interests of taxpayers.

“They ignored warning signs at every turn,” said Court, who urged the next mayor, whoever he was, to get serious about finding taxpayers. “We recommend the Citizenship Council on Utilities, which is in Chicago and elsewhere, as a counterweight to DWP.”

Do I need to say more? We are following Chicago in the fight against corruption.

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