What to Know
- A a federal extortion case is tied to the lawsuits that stemmed from the 2014 Department of Water and Power billing system debacle.
- A $67 million settlement was initially approved in 2017, and it included nearly $20 million in fees paid to the private law firms involved.
- Federal authorities told the I-Team the investigation is still ongoing.
A former senior official at the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office made an initial appearance in court Monday ahead of an expected guilty plea in a federal extortion case tied to the lawsuits that stemmed from the 2014 Department of Water and Power billing system debacle.
Thomas H. Peters told a judge he understood the charges against him and was released on personal recognizance until the next court date.
Peters' defense attorney, Jeff Rutherford, told the judge Peters has been assisting investigators with the ongoing probe into the handling of the lawsuits and alleged corrupt schemes connected with the former management of the DWP.
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"Mr. Peters is a cooperating witness to the government, and he has been cooperating for some time," Rutherford said during a discussion of whether his client would be released without restrictions or bail.
Peters agreed in January to plead guilty to a single county of aiding or abetting extortion and he's expected to formally enter the plea in a different courtroom in the next few weeks.
According to the plea agreement, Peters was serving as LA City Attorney Mike Feuer's chief of civil litigation -- overseeing all lawsuits -- when, he now admits, he helped to approve or arrange an $800,000 payment to an un-named law firm employee who was blackmailing the city.
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Federal prosecutors say that employee had threatened to reveal that the city of LA was secretly working both sides of the class action lawsuit, allegedly to drive up fees paid to private law firms hired by Feuer's office, and conversely, to limit payouts to DWP customers who were overcharged.
Feuer, who is running for mayor, said in January that hiring Peters was his responsibility.
“I own that choice,” he said at the time. “As with every decision in my office, the buck stops with me.”
A $67 million settlement was initially approved in 2017, and it included nearly $20 million in fees paid to the private law firms involved.
To date the FBI investigation of the lawsuit rigging and other corruption at the DWP has led to plea agreements or guilty pleas from the former general manager of the agency, David Wright, one of the private law firm attorneys involved in the class action case, Paul O. Paradis, and former DWP executive David F. Alexander.
Federal authorities told the I-Team the investigation is still ongoing.
Feuer's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday's developments.