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City of Industry's new council to consider firing city attorney

City of Industry council to discuss replacing attorney who filed city lawsuit against powerful Perez family

In one of its first official acts, the City of Industry's new city council on Tuesday called for a special meeting to discuss firing the city attorney who spearheaded a lawsuit against the powerful Perez family and its businesses.

Three new council members, all with business or personal ties to former Mayor David Perez and his family, were sworn in Tuesday afternoon. Minutes later they scheduled a closed session for Wednesday with one topic on the agenda: dismissing and replacing City Atty. Michele Vadon.

Vadon, who has been City of Industry's city attorney since 1998, also came under fire Tuesday from Perez lawyers, who moved to disqualify her from the lawsuit she filed last month accusing the ex-mayor and his family's companies of misappropriating millions of dollars of public funds.

The lawsuit accuses Perez, his companies and four nephews of fraudulently collecting millions of dollars through unauthorized work and false or inflated invoices. It alleges, among other things, that their Zerep Management Corp. billed for services that weren't performed and rental equipment that wasn't used.

In a motion in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Perez attorneys contend that Vadon filed the lawsuit to protect her own financial interests. She and her firm, Burke, Williams and Sorensen, collected nearly $10 million in legal fees in the last five years under a contract with the city, the motion states.

"After years of reaping the benefits of an absurdly lucrative contract with the City of Industry [Vadon and her firm] are desperately trying to maintain their grasp on the office of City Attorney and the millions of dollars per year that the city pays them for 'legal services,'" the motion states.

It also accuses Vadon of conflict of interest.

"In her role as chief legal advisor, not only did the City Attorney likely obtain confidential information regarding Mayor David Perez, one of the individuals she now seeks to prosecute, but she advised, counseled and approved the very same actions by the Mayor that she now hypocritically condemns," the motion states.

Vadon declined to comment.

Charles Slyngstad, another Burke Williams attorney representing the city, denied that the lawsuit was politically motivated and defended Vadon's handling of it. He said there was no conflict of interest because she represented the city's interest, not Perez's.

Slyngstad said he had not verified the billing figures quoted in the motion but said that his firm's charges were appropriate. He called the motion a diversionary move.

"It's a tactical move to try to deflect attention away from [Perez's] family's profiting for more than a decade on contracts that were too lucrative," he said.

Zerep's charges for street sweeping, building maintenance and other services have attracted intense scrutiny since April, when KPMG auditors brought in to review records after Perez resigned in 2012 reported that his family's businesses had reaped $326 million from city contracts since 1995. The city canceled its contract with Zerep in September.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the state controller are conducting separate investigations of the Perezes' financial dealings with the city.

The council on Tuesday also recognized a petition by several residents to repeal a recently passed ordinance that prevents the removal of the city attorney, city manager and city clerk for at least 180 days after new members are sworn in. Such a repeal might require a special election or a council vote, said newly elected member Mark Radecki, but the council has not decided what action to take.

kim.christensen@latimes.com

frank.shyong@latimes.com

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