Friday, January 21, 2022

The former member of the DWP board of directors “did a worthy thing,” says the lawyer.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for a former Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy board member involved in the alleged bribery scheme defended his client.

Bill Funderberk, a former board member, “has always acted with integrity in his legal practice and in the interests of the city and DWP,” said his attorney Jan Handzlik.

Prosecutors said this week that senior DWP officials agreed to take bribes in exchange for their vote on a $ 30 million contract. The contract was transferred to a company owned by attorney Paul Paradis, who worked for City Atty. Mike Feyer’s office for litigation related to faulty DWP billing system.

Paradis has agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery and is cooperating with a federal criminal investigation, prosecutors said.

According to the plea agreement, Paradis received a kickback of nearly $ 2.2 million from another lawyer. He also bribed the general manager of DWP with a $ 1 million salary offer for promised future employment and did unrelated legal work at the request of a DWP board member.

Neither the CEO nor the board member is listed on the plea agreement, but the details in the court document clearly show that the manager is David Wright, who left DWP in 2019. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Times. …

Funderberk, an attorney who retired from the board in 2018, referred The Times’ questions about the unnamed board member to his attorney.

According to the plea agreement, the unnamed board member is male. The only other male board member at the time, Mel Levin, declined to comment for The Times.

Under the plea agreement, an unnamed board member requested unpaid legal fees and assistance from Paradis before voting on a $ 30 million contract before ultimately backing the agreement.

Under the plea agreement, the board member confronted Paradis in the DWP corridor shortly before he entered the boardroom ahead of the June 6, 2017 contract vote.

The board member expressed his gratitude to Paradis for helping with an unrelated legal matter and said words like, “You care about me, I care about you,” in line with the plea agreement.

Paradis understood that this meant that the board member would vote on the $ 30 million contract without bidding if he continued to provide the board member with “free legal services and assistance” under the plea agreement.

Paradis and his legal partner continued legal work for a member of the board of directors until early August 2017; Together they completed about 36 hours of legal work, which Paradis valued at over $ 30,000 based on their respective billing rates under the plea agreement.

“Contrary to Paradis’s selfish accusations, Bill never sought or received personal legal advice from him,” Funderburk’s lawyer Hanzlik said Tuesday. “Rather, to avoid one of his clients being charged under the law for preparing motions, Bill asked Paradis to provide copies of similar motions he had filed in another case.

“Paradis was then a respected and trusted outside attorney for DWP. By modifying and leveraging these moves, Bill did not benefit financially and was in fact able to save his client’s money.

“Paradis now admits that he has received more than $ 2 million in kickbacks as a result of fraud and deception and was caught trying to take another $ 30 million from his own client’s funds,” said Handzlik. “It was all hidden from Bill and DWP.”

No charges were filed against Wright or Funderberk.

The allegations are the latest to shake DWP, an agency where high-profile mistakes or public battles between its powerful union and local politicians regularly overshadow the work the utility is doing to provide city residents with water and electricity.

However, alleged corruption is a different matter, and some longtime critics of DWP said on Tuesday that they were taken aback by the insolent actions outlined by prosecutors.

“I’m shocked at the sheer transactional nature of bribes,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “This is pure bribe.”

Stuart Waldman, president of Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., Said the accusations involving Wright were “clearly self-serving.” “Even my 8-year-old knows what arbitrariness is,” Waldman said.

The CEO and board members are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. When asked Tuesday about the allegations, Garcetti said Paradis “has to pay a price.”

“The general manager I asked to leave clearly had problems with the correctness of the accusations in the press release,” Garcetti said. “Anyone who serves the city or does business with us and breaks the law better be willing to pay the price.”

After the FBI raided DWP headquarters in July 2019 looking for information regarding contracts and other matters, Garcetti announced two months later that he would set up an Inspector General’s office at DWP to handle contractual issues, applicant complaints, ethics and other internal policies.

The office hasn’t started yet.

Garcetti spokesman Harrison Wallman said Monday that the pandemic has forced some departments to suspend some programs and instead focus on helping those affected by the crisis.

“We have resumed progress and the process will be announced before the end of this year,” Wallman said.

Times staff writer Sam Dean contributed to this report.

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