Former DWP board member ‘acted honorably’, lawyer says

The lawyer for a former Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity board member linked to an alleged bribery scheme defended his client on Tuesday.

Former board member Bill Funderburk “has always acted honorably in his law firm and in the best interests of the city and the DWP,” said lawyer Jan Handzlik.

Prosecutors this week alleged that senior DWP officials agreed to receive bribes in exchange for voting on a $ 30 million contract. The contract went to a company owned by lawyer Paul Paradis, who worked for City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office on a dispute resulting from a faulty DWP billing system.

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

According to the plea deal, Paradis accepted a bribe of nearly $ 2.2 million from another lawyer. He also bribed a DWP CEO with a $ 1 million salary offer for a promised future job and did independent legal work at the behest of the DWP board member.

Neither the CEO nor the board member is named in the plea deal, but details in the court document make it clear that the director is David Wright, who left the DWP in 2019. He did not. responded to Times requests for comment. .

Funderburk, a lawyer who resigned from the board in 2018, referred questions from The Times about the anonymous board member to his lawyer.

The anonymous board member is male, according to the plea agreement. The only other male board member at the time, Mel Levine, declined to comment for The Times.

According to the plea deal, the anonymous board member solicited unpaid legal services and assistance from Paradis ahead of the vote on the $ 30 million contract, before ultimately supporting the deal.

The board member met Paradis in the hallway of the DWP shortly before entering the board meeting room ahead of the contract vote on June 6, 2017, according to the plea agreement.

The board member expressed appreciation for Paradis’ help on the unrelated legal matter and said words to the effect of “You take care of me, I take care of you,” according to the agreement. advocacy.

Paradis understood this to mean the board member would vote in favor of the $ 30 million no-tender contract if he continued to provide the board member with “unpaid legal services and assistance” under the plea deal.

Paradis and his legal partner continued to perform legal work for the board member until early August 2017; collectively, they completed approximately 36 hours of legal work, which Paradis valued at over $ 30,000 based on their respective billing rates, according to the plea agreement.

“Contrary to Paradis’ self-serving allegations, Bill has never solicited or received personal legal services from him,” Handzlik, counsel for Funderburk, said Tuesday. “Instead, to avoid having to bill one of his own clients at law for the preparation of petitions, Bill asked Paradis for copies of similar petitions he had filed in another case.

“Paradis was then a respected and trusted outside lawyer for DWP. By rephrasing and using these motions, Bill did not gain any financial benefit and was in fact able to save his client money.

“Paradis now admits that, through fraud and deception, he received over $ 2 million in bribes and was caught trying to take an additional $ 30 million, all of which came from the funds from its own client, ”Handzlik said. “It was all withheld from Bill and the DWP.”

No charges have been filed against Wright or Funderburk.

The accusations are the latest to rock the DWP, an agency where high-profile missteps or public battles between its powerful union and local politicians regularly overshadow the work the utility does to provide water and electricity. to the inhabitants of the city.

Yet the alleged corruption is a whole different matter – and some longtime DWP critics said on Tuesday they were baffled by the brazen acts described by prosecutors.

“I am shocked by the purely transactional nature of the bribes,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “It’s pure transplant.”

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

The general manager and the members of the board of directors are appointed by the mayor Eric Garcetti. Asked Tuesday about the allegations, Garcetti said Paradis “has to pay the price.”

“The general manager I asked to leave clearly has problems if the accusations in the press release are correct,” Garcetti said. “Anyone who serves the city or does business with us and breaks the law should be prepared to pay the price. “

After the FBI raided the DWP headquarters in July 2019, seeking information relating to contracts and other issues, Garcetti announced two months later that he would create an office of Inspector General at DWP to review contracting issues, whistleblower complaints, ethics and other internal policies.

The office has not yet been launched.

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

“We have resumed progress and will have an announcement on the process before the end of this year,” Wollman said.

Times writer Sam Dean contributed to this report.

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