Former Head of LADWP Pleads Guilty in Corruption Case

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
January 25, 2022Updated: January 25, 2022

LOS ANGELES—A former top executive of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power pleaded guilty on Jan. 25 to a federal bribery charge stemming from a probe of the city’s handling of the botched launch of a billing system used by the municipal utility.

David H. Wright, 62, of Riverside, accepted bribes from a lawyer in exchange for supporting a $30 million, no-bid contract with the utility company, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The lawyer named in the case, Paul Paradis, has also agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery count.

Wright is expected to be sentenced on April 26. He admitted in his plea agreement that he accepted kickbacks and participated in “corrupt schemes” while leading the municipal utility.

Wright’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The cases against Wright and Paradis were the first criminal charges arising out of the investigation into the billing system rollout and subsequent litigation. The failed system led to many customers receiving wildly inflated bills.

Wright was the general manager of the municipal utility from September 2016 until July 2019, when prosecutors say he was removed from office by Mayor Eric Garcetti after the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted searches of the utility company and the City Attorney’s Office.

Wright developed a relationship with Paradis, an Arizona attorney hired by the City Attorney’s Office to represent the city in litigation against the contractor involved in the introduction of the 2013 billing system.

Paradis and his New York-based law firm also had a $6 million contract with the utility company to provide project management services in efforts to repair the faulty billing system. At the same time, however, Paradis was representing a utility customer who planned to sue the city over the system.

Paradis admitted in his plea agreement that he accepted a nearly $2.2 million kickback for getting another attorney to represent his ratepayer client in the lawsuit against the utility company—a suit that ultimately resulted in a universal, class-action settlement that critics contended was overly favorable to the city.

Paradis, 58, is expected to formally plead guilty on Feb. 1.

According to prosecutors, Wright and Paradis struck a deal in early 2017, with Wright supporting a “no-bid” $30 million contract with the utility for Paradis’ downtown Los Angeles-based company Aventador Utility Services LLC. In exchange, Paradis agreed to give Wright a million-dollar-per-year job as Aventador’s CEO once he left the utility company, with the deal also including a luxury company car for Wright, officials said.

Wright also lobbied members of the utility’s board of directors to support the contact for Aventador, the name of which was taken from a model of Lamborghini sports car, according to his plea deal.

In his plea deal, Wright admits that he lied to federal investigators in June 2019 when he told them he did not have any financial or business interest tied to Paradis. He also admitted destroying evidence to thwart the federal probe.

After the faulty billing system was unveiled, the city and utility faced multiple class-action lawsuits filed by ratepayers alleging harm resulting from the program.

In December 2014, the City Attorney’s Office retained Paradis and Beverly Hills lawyer Paul R. Kiesel as special counsel to represent the city in a lawsuit meant to be used to settle all related claims on the city’s desired terms, according to federal prosecutors.

Kiesel is cooperating with the investigation and is not charged with any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors contend that when Paradis began representing the city as special counsel in the litigation against PricewaterhouseCoopers over the company’s handling of the utility’s billing system rollout, city prosecutors were aware that he was already representing Antwon Jones, a ratepayer who had a claim against the utility arising from billing overcharges.

But Jones was unaware that his lawyer, Paradis, also represented his intended adversary, according to court filings.

Thomas H. Peters, 55, of Pacific Palisades, a former senior official at the City Attorney’s Office, has agreed to plead guilty to a federal extortion charge and is cooperating in the probe.

Federal prosecutors have also obtained a plea agreement from David F. Alexander, 54, of Arcadia, a former senior cyber official at the utility.