Jun. 4, 2019
Former US financial crime prosecutor to audit LA water billing settlement
A former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted financial crimes will independently scrutinize a $67 million Los Angeles Department of Water and Power ratepayer settlement entangled in fraud allegations.
LOS ANGELES -- A former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted financial crimes will independently scrutinize a $67 million Los Angeles Department of Water and Power ratepayer settlement entangled in fraud allegations.
Edward M. Robbins Jr., now handling tax investigations with Hochman Salkin Toscher Perez PC, was selected as special master Monday by Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle to independently audit the settlement that has given rise to accusations of collusion, kickbacks and resulted in a shakeup in the office of City Attorney Michael N. Feuer. Berle made note in court during a 25-minute reading of his order that the role of the special master will go beyond examining the financial paper trail of the Antwon Jones class settlement, but in addition will examine the various relationships between the city attorney's office, special outside counsel, Jones, and his counsel, Jack Landskroner of Ohio. Landskroner is accused of filing a complaint provided by outside city special counsel Paul O. Paradis and Paul R. Kiesel. Jones v. City of Los Angeles, BC577267 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed April 1, 2015).
Robbins' investigation will work concurrently to the city's own ethics investigation, which is handled by Ellen A. Pansky of Pansky Markle.
Robbins spent 21 years as a federal prosecutor, rising to become chief of the Central District of California tax division. He also worked at the Internal Revenue Service. "He has extensive experience in complex civil and criminal financial investigations," said Berle, noting Robbins had no professional or personal relationship with any of the parties in the Jones case.
Berle also tasked Robbins with determining the origin of the Jones complaint, and "whether there was collusion by any party, or a cover-up, or a fraud on the court by counsel."
Robbins was suggested by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, which represents Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC in related pending litigation with the city over the billing software. His selection came from a pool of candidates, ranging from retired judges to forensic accountants. Los Angeles v. Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC, BC574690 (L.A. Super Ct., filed March 6, 2015).
Robbins will have subpoena power, although information that may be privileged will be first addressed by the judge.
Berle stopped short of allowing the special master to decide whether the terms of the settlement agreement were fair, leaving that to newly appointed class counsel Brian S. Kabateck of Kabateck LLP. Kabateck is representing Jones, who said he did not know Paradis was working for the city when Jones retained him.
Following inquiries from the Daily Journal, special counsel resigned from representing the city of Los Angeles, and the city attorney's office said it started its own misconduct investigation. Both Paradis and Lankdskroner blanket pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incriminations during their depositions.
Later during Monday's hearing, Berle noted Landskroner missed the deadline to produce an accounting related to his representation of the Jones class. His attorney, Mark T. Drooks of Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow PC, said his client would preserve his constitutional right against self-incrimination, adding that Berle's order pertained only to Landskroner personally and not his law firm.
Berle then ordered Landskroner's firm to provide a full accounting to him within 10 days.