Los Angeles

DWP Scandal: What Did the LA City Attorney Know?

Federal prosecutors allege a key discussion about the extortion took place during a Dec. 1, 2017 meeting.

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LA City Attorney Mike Feuer was scheduled to participate in a December 2017 meeting that's been revealed as a key moment in the extortion prosecution of one of Feuer's former top deputies, as part of a widening federal investigation into allegations of corruption at the Department of Water and Power amid the utility's excessive billing debacle, according to records obtained by NBC4's I-Team.

Feuer, who's running for LA Mayor, has maintained he knew nothing of a variety of legal improprieties in the handling of the resulting DWP-billing-related lawsuits until early 2019, but acknowledged last week he probably attended this meeting, after the I-Team obtained a copy of Feuer's calendar for the day of the meeting and it showed the City Attorney was set to be there.

"The City Attorney attended multiple meetings over the years about the PWC/DWP litigation, and it appears from his calendar that he attended one on December 1, 2017," Feuer's spokesman Rob Wilcox said in an email. PWC refers to PriceWaterhouse Coopers, the firm that sold the DWP the billing software.

"The City Attorney has no specific recollection of that meeting--more than four years ago--but certainly was not informed at that time, or any time, of any criminal malfeasance," Wilcox said.

The Dec. 1 meeting was described in court filings made public in January in the plea agreement of Feuer's former head of civil litigation, Thomas Peters, who is expected to formally plead guilty Tuesday to a single federal charge of aiding or abetting extortion. 

Federal prosecutors allege a key discussion about the extortion took place during the Dec. 1, 2017 meeting.

“If he was in the room, he knew about it," said Jamie Court with Consumer Watchdog, who's been raising the alarm about how the DWP cases were handled by the City Attorney’s Office since 2015.

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"There's no question that someone who's running for Mayor, someone who's sitting in the City Attorney's office has to answer the question, what was he doing in that room? And what did he know?," Court said.

According to court filings by federal prosecutors, Peters, who was chief of civil litigation under Feuer until 2019, said on December 1, 2017 he met with, "senior members of the City Attorney's Office," to consider paying a blackmailer, who had threatened to expose that lawyers working for the City were both suing the provider of the DWP’s billing software and drafting documents and manipulating a settlement for the DWP customers – who were suing the City for reimbursement of the erroneous billing.

The I-Team initially asked Feuer about the 2017 meeting on March 8, after a private attorney who worked on the DWP litigation for the City filed a state bar complaint that claimed Feuer was one of those 'senior members,' and accused Feuer of lying about participation in the meeting.

"I don't even know what meeting we're talking about," Feuer said. "I've never been involved in any such discussion," he emphasized.

"That allegation has absolutely no merit to it, it's from a confessed felon, who's violations we discovered," he continued.

Peters' plea agreement is the fourth tied to the FBI's corruption investigation.

Last November the private attorney who filed the bar complaint against Feuer, Paul Paradis, agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery charge for receiving a near-$2.2-million kickback for his role in manipulating a class action lawsuit that was supposed to recoup millions of dollars for thousands of overcharged DWP customers.

In January the former general manager of the DWP pleaded guilty to a bribery charge. David H. Wright admitted he agreed to accept payoffs from a lawyer in exchange for approving a rigged $30-million no bid contract.

Another former DWP executive, David F. Alexander, has agreed to plead guilty to making false statements to FBI agents. Federal prosecutors say Alexander was negotiating a 'lucrative job offer' connected with Paradis while serving as the DWP's chief information security officer.

"I mean, this is a profound betrayal of the public trust," said Court of the botched DWP litigation that’s cost LA residents millions of dollars.

"Every time we at Consumer Watchdog and others in the legal community brought these complaints to the attention of the City Attorney, of the Mayor, they ignored us. And we did this as back as far as 2015 in writing, and they've ignored us. And now we find out all these years later that there was a huge cover up," Court said.

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