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Investigator finds fraud and ethics violations in review of DWP billing litigation

Department of Water and Power building in Los Angeles
A court-appointed investigator is reviewing issues stemming from the 2013 DWP billing debacle. Above, Department of Water and Power headquarters.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In a new report, a court-appointed investigator said he has found preliminary evidence of fraud and ethics violations related to lawsuits and payments stemming from the 2013 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power billing debacle.

Edward M. Robbins, a former federal prosecutor, didn’t offer many details. But in his report filed Nov. 14, he said that “some lawyers” involved in the billing-related litigation “committed fraud, by omission and commission, on the court” and that “some payments” made by the city of Los Angeles “were induced by fraud.”

It’s unclear if the fraud and ethics violations are new allegations or ones already made by other parties. Robbins declined an interview request.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle appointed Robbins to scrutinize payments, lawsuits and contracts linked to the billing debacle, in which tens of thousands of DWP customers were overcharged when the utility rolled out new billing software.

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DWP customers filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, which led to a $67-million settlement. Berle signed off on it in 2017.

At the same time, City Atty. Mike Feuer sued PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consulting firm that implemented the billing software.

However, the city’s case against PricewaterhouseCoopers collapsed after lawyers for the consulting firm uncovered evidence that they said showed attorneys working for Feuer’s office took part in a scheme to quickly settle the class-action lawsuit by DWP customers.

PricewaterhouseCoopers alleged attorneys working for the city had hand-picked the plaintiff and the opposing attorneys who filed the class-action lawsuit, according to court documents.

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Feuer’s office has blamed two attorneys it hired to work on the PricewaterhouseCoopers litigation: Paul Kiesel and Paul Paradis. Paradis has denied wrongdoing, while Kiesel has said his work was done at the direction of the city, which Feuer’s office denies.

Robbins, who is able to subpoena witnesses and potentially review bank records, has been tasked by the court to comb through the various cases that arose from the billing debacle. His team includes four former federal prosecutors, in addition to help from a forensic investigating firm, according to his first interim report.

The report says that the financial part of Robbins’ investigation has “stalled” because of an inability to get some records. “Our team is exploring legal option to obtain the necessary downstream bank records,” the report reads.

The six-page report also says that Robbins’ team has served subpoenas to witnesses who refused to be interviewed.

Robbins’ review is one of several underway or recently concluded. The city attorney’s office paid for an ethics analysis of the handling of the lawsuits, while a new set of attorneys are reviewing the $67-million settlement.

Separately, the FBI raided the DWP and city attorney’s office in July, seeking information related to the billing litigation.


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