former dwp head sentenced to 6 years in prison for taking bribe
David Wright is the first to be sentenced in LADWP saga
Over and over, when criminal defendants speak before a judge one last time, we get to see how life really is an unbroken string of tragic behavior. People steal because they were stolen from. People abuse because they were abused.
But the judge who sentenced the former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to jail on Monday saw no such cycle of abuse at play. David H. Wright was privileged. Citing a deterrence for those in positions of power, U.S District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld sentenced Wright to six years in jail for accepting a bribe in the sprawling DWP billing saga.
“(Wright) was not a man in dire financial straights. It appears the motive here was pure greed,” said Blumenfeld, a Trump appointee. “This case is truly a tragedy. The nature and circumstances of this offense are pretty egregious.”
David H. Wright admitted to accepting a lucrative bribe from a private city lawyer, Paul O. Paradis, who was supposed to fix DWP’s chronic billing problems. Paradis is awaiting sentencing.
Prosectors, saying Wright “embarked on a brazen campaign of corruption,” asked for an eight-year jail sentence, while Wright’s attorney asked for a sentence of no more than two years. His maximum was 10 years. Wright was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $75,000 fine.
Assistant United States Attorney Melissa Mills told the judge that Wright “betrayed the public trust for years.”
Reading from prepared notes and dressed in a suit, the 62-year-old Wright said, “I really messed up the rest of my life…I broke the law. I have no one to blame but myself.”
Wright said his conduct was tied to his selfishness and anxiousness about his future. He had health issues. His father had passed away. He felt alone in Los Angeles. But Wright’s attorney said Paradis made him feel appreciated at the utility during a difficult period in his life. Together, the two went to nice restaurants and sporting events paid for by Paradis. Wright was intrigued by this figure who apparently had a commanding understanding of the law.
“He did look up to Paul Paradis. Mr. Paradis played him like a fiddle,” said Anthony Pacheco, of Vedder Price, Wright’s attorney.
Wow, six years in jail for the crime of “looking up to Paul Paradis.”
In 2017, Paradis made Wright a job offer: Wright would become CEO of Paradis’ company, Aventador Utility Solutions, once he retired from the LADWP, with an annual salary of $1 million, a $600,000 signing bonus, and a luxury company car. But there was a catch. Wright would have to help sell a $30-million Aventador contract to the DWP board, the government said.
“Mr. Wright knew this agreement was illegal, and he and Mr. Paradis discussed the need to keep their agreement confidential,” admitted Wright’s attorney, in court papers.
That DWP contract was approved on June 6, 2017 via a unanimous board vote.
“The cost of that contract was pushed onto DWP and its ratepayers,” said Mills, the prosecutor.
The judge called the bribe “an exit strategy” for Wright out of DWP.
Then in March 2019, when news of the no-bid contract leaked amidst the DWP billing scandal, Wright and Paradis sought to cover it up by deleting texts and wiping LADWP property, according to prosecutors.
“Mr. Wright is fully and painfully aware that the fact that Mr. Paradis used and manipulated him in order to get him to lobby for Mr. Paradis to receive the $30 million LADWP contract does not absolve him of responsibility for the criminal conduct to which he has pleaded guilty,” said Wright’s attorney.
In March 2019, Wright informed Paradis, who was then secretly cooperating with the FBI, that he wanted to help continue getting Ardent contracts.
In July 2019, Wright began cooperating with federal prosecutors, and at first falsely stated that he had no financial interest in Aventador.
In his sentencing papers, Wright argued that he felt outed and paraded around as a gay man by Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Mayor Garcetti announced to the crowd of about 600 that they could now all pay their utility bills to the ‘gay general manager of LADWP.’”
The tally of the corruption is currently over $200 million. A total of four people are facing jail time, including a DWP executive, and two former attorneys for the city.
“Many run-of-the-mill corruption cases involve low- or mid-level government employees who took bribes to augment their modest public salaries. This is not such a case,” argued prosecutors in their sentencing papers. “Defendant sat at the head of the largest public utility in America and was compensated in that role at the rate of more than half a million dollars a year.”
The pair had greater ambitions as well. After the two traveled to Israel in 2018, Wright and Paradis wanted to bring a cyber company to L.A., prosecutors said. Paradis would put up $5 million in capital and have a controlling interest, and Wright would have an ownership interest, prosecutors said. That plan never materialized.