Probe opens into alleged misuse of DWP’s corporate credit cards

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has opened an investigation to determine whether employees of the city Department of Water and Power misused the utility’s corporate credit cards, officials familiar with the probe said.

David Demerjian, who heads Cooley’s Public Integrity Division, said search warrants were served on the homes and offices of two DWP employees: Akbar Fonooni, 54, and Anthony Carone, 48.

Neither Fonooni nor Carone has been accused of a crime. Demerjian said investigators with his office, working in conjunction with the city’s Ethics Commission, are looking into possible misappropriation of funds and hope to conclude their investigation within 30 days.

“We seized a lot of documents from the DWP, and it’s been tedious going through all the documents,” he said.

The investigation comes as the nation’s largest municipal utility also looks into allegations of misbehavior regarding other employees.

DWP Interim General Manager Austin Beutner said Wednesday that the utility began the process of firing two workers in the wake of a report by KCBS-TV Channel 2, which said at least one worker drove a city vehicle while drinking from an open container of alcohol.

The report said other utility workers went to strip clubs and drank beer on company time. Four other employees have been reassigned while the investigation continues.

In the district attorney’s credit card probe, DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said the utility was served with the search warrants Dec. 15. Ramallo also said two workers have experienced a change in “work status” in the wake of the investigation. He would not say if the employees were Fonooni and Carone.

“The LADWP is fully cooperating with the District Attorney’s Office and is not a target of the investigation,” he said in an e-mail.

The search warrants remain under seal. Neither Demerjian nor Ramallo would describe the purchases that are under scrutiny or reveal the amount of money that is at stake in the investigation.

But one public official familiar with the situation, who only spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing, said investigators have been trying to determine whether one or more employees purchased excess equipment and improperly sold the surplus.

When The Times tried to reach Fonooni for comment, the mechanical engineer’s voice mail at the DWP would not record a message. His home phone number had been disconnected. A woman at his home in Burbank said he is receiving medical treatment in Tehran.

An Akbar Fonooni page on Facebook identifies him as a DWP employee whose “current city” is Tehran.

Carone, a plumbing supervisor for the utility, did not respond to messages left at his home.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the council’s Energy and Environment Committee, said she was unaware that search warrants had been served.

Perry, whose panel oversees DWP issues, said she viewed the issue as another example of the utility failing to disclose information.

“I will do what I need to do to pull the item into my committee so that we can be fully aware of what’s going on,” she said.

The Los Angeles City Council has been highly critical of the DWP’s handling of rate hikes and other policy matters in recent weeks.

Times staff writer Jack Leonard contributed to this report.