L.A. Times and consumer group ask judge to unseal records in DWP scandal

Los Angeles, CA - February 8: Mike Feuer listens to a questions asked during the CA-30 Congressional Debate at Wilshire Ebell Theater on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)
Former L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer, shown during a recent debate in his run for Congress, has denied wrongdoing in the scandal that involved the DWP and his office. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

The Times and Consumer Watchdog have asked a federal court to unseal evidence related to the criminal investigation of former City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office and the Department of Water and Power.

The Times and the consumer advocacy group filed an application Wednesday seeking to make public 33 search warrants, affidavits and other documents in the government’s case.

Jerry Flanagan, legal director for Consumer Watchdog, said the law clearly states the public has a right to documents when a government criminal investigation has finished.

Flanagan said the documents will shed more light on the scandal, called an “incredibly sordid affair” last year by U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr., who is overseeing the criminal case.

The application, filed by The Times and Consumer Watchdog in the U.S. District Court’s Central District, also states the public has a right to know “whether or not Mr. Feuer bears culpability for the scandal.” Feuer, the former city attorney, is running for the 30th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank). Feuer is among the top fundraisers in the race.

Read more: Questions, anger after feds signal an end to DWP billing probe

Prosecutors last year confirmed that their probe into illicit city contracts and a sham lawsuit involving the DWP was over.

Four people, including three top city employees, pleaded guilty to various crimes in a scandal centered around a 2015 class-action lawsuit filed by DWP customers.

Prosecutors said that an attorney working for Feuer’s office wrote the lawsuit and then handed it to an opposing attorney, who filed it against the city.

The goal was to quickly settle numerous claims filed by DWP customers, who were grossly overcharged by a new billing system, prosecutors said.

Several individuals, who go unnamed in prosecutors’ court documents, were alleged to have known about or taken part in various schemes but weren’t charged.

Read more: Key lawyer in DWP corruption scandal gets 33-month prison sentence

More questions were raised when onetime attorney Paul Paradis, who ghost-wrote the lawsuit filed against the city and admitted taking a kickback, told a federal judge in November that an FBI agent testified in two affidavits that Feuer perjured himself before a federal grand jury. Feuer also made false statements to the FBI, Paradis said.

Feuer has long denied wrongdoing. Reached Wednesday, Feuer pointed to the letter that he was sent in 2022 by the U.S. attorney’s office that said he wasn’t being investigated.

“That letter continues to speak for itself,” said Feuer, who declined to say whether he supports unsealing the documents.

The application filed by The Times and Consumer Watchdog also says the documents are “essential” to “monitor the charging decisions” of the U.S. attorney’s office.

“The public has a strong interest in assessing why prosecutors made the limited charging decisions they did,” the application says, “particularly where those decisions were made about highly influential and powerful public officials who were not charged, while lower ranking officials were charged.”

Attorneys for the two entities began meeting with the U.S. attorney’s office in January to discuss access to the documents.

The process was still underway last week, but “unfortunately, we were not able to reach an agreement,” Flanagan said.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, declined to comment.

Mrozek told The Times last year that prosecutors didn’t pursue additional criminal charges in the case when the “evidence did not establish every element of a federal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Paradis supports unsealing the documents, his attorneys said Thursday.

The attorneys cited prosecutors’ own words in the criminal case in a statement to The Times.

“As stated by the United States Attorney’s Office in open court, it is ‘in the government’s prerogative to be as transparent as possible’ and ‘the public certainly deserves to know’ the truth and extent of the corrupt acts committed by city officials,” Scheper and Steinfeld said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.