By Dakota Smith, LOS ANGELES TIMES
December 1, 2021
An attorney for a former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power board member linked to an alleged bribery scheme defended his client Tuesday.
Bill Funderburk, the former board member, “always acted honorably in his law practice and in the best interests of the city and the DWP,” said his attorney, Jan Handzlik.
Prosecutors alleged this week that top officials at the DWP agreed to take bribes in exchange for their vote on a $30-million contract. The contract was given to a company owned by attorney Paul Paradis, who was working for City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office on litigation stemming from a faulty DWP billing system.
Paradis agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery and is cooperating with the ongoing federal criminal investigation, prosecutors said.
According to the plea agreement, Paradis accepted a nearly $2.2-million kickback from another attorney. He also bribed a DWP general manager with a $1-million salary offer for promised future employment and did unrelated legal work at the request of the DWP board member.
Neither the general manager nor the board member are named in the plea agreement, but the details in the court document make clear that the manager is David Wright, who left the DWP in 2019. He hasn’t responded to requests for comment from The Times.
Funderburk, an attorney who stepped down from the board in 2018, referred questions from The Times about the unnamed board member to his attorney.
The unnamed board member is male, according to the plea agreement. The only other male member of the board at that time, Mel Levine, declined to comment to The Times.
According to the plea agreement, the unnamed board member solicited unpaid legal services and assistance from Paradis ahead of the vote on the $30-million contract, before ultimately supporting the agreement.
The board member encountered Paradis in the hallway at the DWP shortly before he entered the board meeting room ahead of the contract vote on June 6, 2017, according to the plea agreement.
The board member expressed appreciation for Paradis’ help on the unrelated legal matter and said words to the effect of, “You take care of me, I take care of you,” according to the plea agreement.
Paradis understood this to mean that the board member would vote in favor of the $30-million, no-bid contract if he continued to provide the board member with “unpaid legal services and assistance” according to the plea agreement.
Paradis and his law partner continued to perform legal work for the board member until early August 2017; collectively they performed approximately 36 hours of legal work, which Paradis valued at over $30,000 based on their respective billing rates, according to the plea agreement.
“Contrary to Paradis’ self-serving allegations, Bill never sought or received personal legal services from him,” Handzlik, Funderburk’s attorney, said Tuesday. “Rather, to avoid having to charge one of his own law clients for preparing motions, Bill asked Paradis for copies of similar motions he had filed in another case.
“Paradis was then a respected and trusted outside lawyer for DWP. By redrafting and using these motions, Bill got no financial benefit and in fact was able to save his client money.
“Paradis now admits that, through fraud and deceit, he got over $2 million in kickbacks and was caught trying take another $30 million, all from his own client’s funds,” Handzlik said. “All of this was hidden from Bill and the DWP.”
No charges have been filed against Wright or Funderburk.
The accusations are the latest to rock the DWP, an agency where high-profile missteps or public battles between its powerful union and local politicians regularly overshadow the work the utility does to deliver water and power to city residents.
Still, alleged corruption is another matter altogether — and some longtime DWP critics said Tuesday they were taken aback by the brazen acts outlined by prosecutors.
“I’m shocked at the sheer transactional nature of the bribes,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “This is pure graft.”
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said the allegations involving Wright “were clearly self-dealing.” “Even my 8-year-old knows what self-dealing is,” Waldman said.
The general manager and board members are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. Asked Tuesday about the allegations, Garcetti said Paradis “needs to pay the price.”
“The general manager that I asked to leave clearly has issues if the accusations in the press release are correct,” Garcetti said. “Anybody who serves the city or does business with us and broke the law better be prepared to pay the price.”
After the FBI raided DWP headquarters in July 2019, looking for information related to contracts and other issues, Garcetti announced two months later that he would create an inspector general office at the DWP to review contracting matters, whistleblower complaints, ethics and other internal policies.
The office has yet to launch.
Garcetti spokesman Harrison Wollman said Monday the pandemic forced some departments to pause some programs and instead focus on helping those affected by the crisis.
”We have resumed progress and will have an announcement on the process before the end of this year,” Wollman said.
Times staff writer Sam Dean contributed to this report.
Dakota Smith covers Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Hall for the Los Angeles Times.