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L.A. mayoral candidate Mel Wilson leads protest over DWP rates and billing scandal

Mayoral candidate Mel Wilson at a corruption protest
Mayoral candidate Mel Wilson takes a hammer to a piggy bank during a rally Friday outside a Department of Water and Power building in Van Nuys.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Following a federal corruption probe into the Department of Water and Power and city attorney’s office, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Mel Wilson on Friday called for the utility to lower billing rates and perform a formal audit of its finances.

Wilson accused City Atty. Mike Feuer, who is also running for mayor, and Mayor Eric Garcetti of failing to protect the DWP from being used by corrupt individuals.

For the record:

5:16 p.m. Jan. 24, 2022An earlier version of this report referred to Van Nuys resident Don Schultz as Dan Schultz.

“The DWP has become the piggy bank for all underhanded things that are going on in our city,” Wilson told about two dozen supporters who gathered outside a DWP building on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Grabbing a hammer, Wilson struck a porcelain piggy bank propped up on a DWP planter; it shattered, dollar bills tumbled out, and the group cheered.

“Let’s get our money back!” Wilson yelled.

Prosecutors have announced four plea agreements in the federal probe of the DWP and the city attorney’s office over issues stemming from the botched 2013 rollout of a new billing system for the utility.

Prosecutors say the city’s legal team secretly colluded with an Ohio lawyer in an effort to quickly settle a class-action lawsuit brought by DWP customers over the new billing system, which overcharged hundreds of thousand of customers. The plea agreements detail the alleged bribes, kickbacks and extortion that accompanied the legal dealings.

The scandal could end up costing the utility hundreds of millions of dollars, and it could be years before several related lawsuits are wrapped up.

Paul Paradis, an attorney hired by the city of Los Angeles, this week filed an ethics complaint asking the agency to investigate City Atty. Mike Feuer, former Commissioner Mel Levine and others.

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Van Nuys resident Don Schultz, 85, carried a sign that read “We are not your piggy bank” to Friday’s protest.

“The corruption isn’t being addressed by the mayor and the City Council,” Schultz said.

Wilson, a former Metro board member who owns a real estate company in the San Fernando Valley, is the latest mayoral candidate to highlight the corruption scandal.

Entrepreneur Ramit Varma, who is also running for mayor, earlier this month called on Feuer to resign as city attorney and abandon his run for mayor.

“In what world does someone believe they should be rewarded with greater responsibility when they have failed so spectacularly?” Varma asked The Times. “Only one place: L.A. city government.”

Downtown business leader Jessica Lall last month said she would establish an independent citizens commission to oversee the DWP.

“It’s doesn’t seem that there’s much outrage at City Hall,” Lall said of the scandal. “Who is taking responsibility? Who should be held accountable? Who is asking the hard questions from the political side?”

A spokesman for Feuer last week said the city attorney wasn’t aware of the collusive lawsuit. Feuer also said last week that he has “continued to be not just cooperative but actively assisting whenever that’s appropriate” when it comes to the investigation.

Feuer said he acknowledges “any mistakes or serious errors that emerged from this office too, because that’s what leaders do.”

A DWP spokesman on Friday pointed to a utility program that recently reimbursed $285 million to financially strapped customers, according to the utility.


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