Federal Prosecutors Ordered to Unseal FBI Warrants Related to L.A. City Attorney's Office and DWP Corruption says Consumer Watchdog

PR Newswire
Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 7:36pm UTC

Federal Prosecutors Ordered to Unseal FBI Warrants Related to L.A. City Attorney's Office and DWP Corruption says Consumer Watchdog

PR Newswire

Names of Public Officials Including Former City Attorney Mike Feuer Will Not Be Redacted, Nor Will Statements by an FBI Agent that Feuer Lied to the Grand Jury

LOS ANGELES, April 16, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- This morning a federal judge issued a final order on an application to unseal 33 search FBI warrants and related documents that detail federal prosecutors' investigation into unethical and illegal activity at the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office and the Department of Water and Power ("DWP").

Download the Final Order issued this morning here.

The government's investigation came in the wake of the DWP's botched launch of a new billing system in 2013 that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

As a result of the government's investigation, which ended in November 2023, one City Attorney official, a former Special Counsel, and two DWP officials pled guilty to bribery and extortion charges. However, significant questions remain about the roles other key officials played in the City's misconduct, including former City Attorney Mike Feuer.

The FBI warrant materials were sought in a legal action by Consumer Watchdog and the Los Angeles Times.

As Federal Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. noted in his Final Order:

"Public confidence in government—which lies at the core of a well functioning democracy—is shaken, if not shattered, when public officials and those operating on their behalf engage in criminal or unethical conduct. The nature and scope of misconduct in this case, resulting in convictions of high-level public officials at two municipal agencies, raise serious questions about a culture of corruption. These questions warrant public scrutiny to determine the extent to which wrongdoers have been held accountable and the extent to which the affected agencies have been reformed. The need for scrutiny is only heightened where the corruption threatens the integrity of the judicial system and the safety of this nation's infrastructure. Without disclosure of the identities of the public officials and others working for the City, the public would not be able to 'properly evaluate the fruits of the government's extensive investigation.'
United States v. Kott, 135 F. App'x 69, 70 (9th Cir. 2005)."

Though government prosecutors widely embraced public disclosure of the warrant materials, they proposed certain redactions with which Consumer Watchdog and the Los Angeles Times disagreed. In a tentative opinion issued before a hearing last Friday morning, the Court denied the United States Attorney's Office's request to redact the names of City employees and other officials, including private attorneys working on behalf of City. However, the Court did not decide the issue of whether statements in an affidavit by FBI Agent Andy Civetti that Mr. Feuer lied to the grand jury would be released. The final order issued today makes clear that those statements will be released, but that any references to the substance of grand jury testimony will be redacted consisted with federal rules.

"The Court's order is a win for all those who believe sunlight is the best disinfectant," said Consumer Watchdog staff attorney Ryan Mellino. "Unsealing these records sends a message that public officials will not be protected from public scrutiny."

In late 2014, in an attempt to take control of the ever-worsening DWP billing debacle costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, the City Attorney's Office hatched a scheme to sue itself through a collusive "white knight" lawsuit, in which the City Attorney's Office controlled the litigation nominally brought on behalf of DWP customers against the City. The lawsuit ultimately settled on terms favorable to the City.

According to government documents, following the collusive litigation settlement, an employee of Special Counsel Paul Kiesel threatened to expose the City's misconduct unless she was paid off, and unnamed "senior members of the City Attorney's Office" directed the extortion payment to be made in the amount of $800,000.

As noted in the Application to Unseal Court Records filed on February 21, 2024, the Los Angeles Times previously reported that "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."

Lawyers for Consumer Watchdog and the Los Angeles Times argued the public has a strong interest in assessing why prosecutors made the charging decisions they did, particularly where those decisions were made about highly influential and powerful public officials who were not charged, while lower ranking officials were charged.

Tim Blood of the law firm Blood, Hurst, O'Reardon LLP—who like Consumer Watchdog has been a key figure in exposing the scandal since 2014—and open records expert Kelly Aviles joined lawyers for Consumer Watchdog in prosecuting the legal action to unseal the FBI warrants.

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SOURCE Consumer Watchdog