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Questions remain as feds signal an end to DWP billing probe

Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — It was a shocking sight on a July morning in 2019: An FBI van parked outside Los Angeles City Hall and agents upstairs, scouring the headquarters of the city attorney's office.

The government was there to collect evidence in a complex criminal case growing out of a scandal that erupted years earlier at another powerful city agency, the Department of Water and Power.

A new DWP billing system rolled out in 2013 proved to be a costly debacle, as well as a huge political crisis for City Hall. Customers were flooded with outrageously inflated bills, including a Van Nuys couple charged nearly $52,000.

The city attorney's office, seeking to play the hero, swooped in. Federal prosecutors would later describe in charging documents how attorneys crafted a sham lawsuit over the faulty DWP bills and covered up their wrongdoing when the scheme unraveled. The charade has cost the city tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and other expenses.

The government probe uncovered other schemes, too. Four individuals pleaded guilty to various federal crimes, including a former high-level advisor to former City Atty. Mike Feuer, an outside attorney hired by Feuer's office and two top DWP officials, including the general manager.

In response to inquiries by The Times, the U.S. attorney's office said this month that its investigation into the city attorney's office and DWP is closed. The last defendant will be sentenced next week.


But the end of the government's case is prompting a new round of questions. Critics ask why certain individuals — including high-ranking personnel in the city attorney's office who remain unidentified in prosecutors' public court filings — escaped punishment.

Jack Humphreville, who chairs the DWP advocacy committee for the city's neighborhood councils, is frustrated by the federal probe's outcome. He wants to know who took part in the scam.

"It feels like people got off scot-free," Humphreville said. "The whole thing stinks."

The city's bungling of the DWP lawsuit spurred other litigation. In one case, an attorney is seeking the government's confidential notes to see if those documents reveal the identities of those involved in the schemes.


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