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prosecutors in their sentencing papers want former city attorney official thom peters in jail for 18 months. that's the least interesting part.
Hey, apologies for being MIA. I’m actually writing stuff all the time but I only probably post half of it, mostly because when you mix a compulsion to write with being overly precious, nothing gets over the finish line. I’m hoping to get back into the zone of caring less. Anyway, I’ve been working on a bunch of things at once, which you’ll get to see soon.
But for now a little LADWP update.
Yesterday parties filed their partially redacted sentencing papers for Thomas H. Peters, the former city attorney official who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting extortion. That crime consisted of Peters ordering then-outside city lawyer Paul Kiesel to pay $800,000 in order to bury collusion from surfacing in the Jones v. city of Los Angeles utility billing lawsuit. Prosecutors are asking for 18 months jail time, followed by three years of probation and a $35,000 fine. Peters, meanwhile, is asking to walk, citing his cooperation.
Peters, who initially faced 20 years in jail, is the highest city attorney official to be criminally implicated in LADWP yet. But as I’ve written, his sentencing in this saga that remains very much unresolved has been delayed for over a year. Now we’re learning more. Here are the interesting details in his sentencing papers:
Yes, there is an active State Bar investigation
Part of the reason Peters’ sentence was reduced from 41-51 months is because he is cooperating with federal prosecutors and a separate investigation by the State Bar of California. Although parts of the papers are redacted, the feds kept the State Bar detail public, calling his cooperation with the US Attorney’s Office and the State Bar “substantial.” By protecting the supposed sensitivity of the case, it signals that things actually aren’t done in LADWP land.
Who is extorting who?
Peters is going to jail for his involvement in a payment to coverup information exposing the Jones lawsuit as collusive. In late 2017, a former employee of Kiesel Law identified as “Person A” by the feds, approached Kiesel with not one, but six cases, one of which exposed the “collusive origins” of the Jones billing lawsuit. In exchange for the documents, the employee asked for nearly a million dollars. The person was going to attend an upcoming court hearing and divulge the information.
Peters, in his capacity as head of the city’s civil department, said the city was concerned about “a sideshow” if the information came to light. During a meeting on Dec. 1, 2017, prosecutors said “senior members of the City Attorney’s Office” were the ones who “directed [Mr. Peters] to take care of the situation.” Peters let Kiesel know, as well as his co-counsel, Paul Paradis, texting Paradis, “Mike is not firing anyone at this point. But he is far from happy about the prospect of a sideshow,” according to texts in a Paradis ethics complaint. Peters’ boss, of course, was then-City Attorney Mike Feuer.
And Peters said he would advocate to get Kiesel fired if he didn’t resolve the situation, including paying the money.
“I need you to take care of this,” Peters wrote to Kiesel, who ultimately paid and then secured a confidentiality agreement. The collusion remained under wraps for another year and no one informed the judge in the matter.
Kiesel, who maintained it was the city that was in control, hasn’t been charged (nor has his former employee who extorted him) and he is considered a victim in the eyes of prosecutors.
“Defendant’s threat to have the City Attorney fire Kiesel in the middle of a high-stakes, public lawsuit meant Kiesel would suffer economic and reputational harm,” wrote prosecutors.
But where did that $800,000 come from? According to filings, half of the $800,000 payment came from Paul Paradis. The wire transfer between Paradis and Kiesel are redacted exhibits. And the money might have originated from Jack Landskroner, who we know paid Paradis $2.2 million for filing the sham Jones lawsuit. By the feds’ logic, if Kiesel is a victim of his former employee’s demand, then what does that make Paradis? Is he Kiesel’s victim? Or do the feds have it backwards, and no one in this is a saint. The very reason the payment appears to be made in the first place was to cover up attorney misconduct.
The feds say Peters didn’t know at the time about the kickback Paradis received, but he did know about the collusive nature of the Jones lawsuit. So…
Who directed Peters?
The sentencing papers don’t say which senior officials in the city attorney’s office told Peters to greenlight the extortion payment on Dec. 1, 2017, but we can deduce some things. According to a Public Records Act Request, there were six people in that meeting, and only two were senior to Peters: Feuer’s then-chief of staff Leela Kapur, and Mike Feuer. Jim Clark, 2nd in command in that office, was not in the meeting (one of the exhibits is a hierarchical chart of the city attorney’s office). Feuer’s response to being at that extortion meeting wasn’t, “I wasn’t there,” but “Feuer goes to a lot of meetings and doesn’t remember this one.” He’s maintained that the collusion was done without his knowledge.
So with that in mind, is Peters turning on Clark and Feuer? What is the federal government doing with that information?
Peters calls out the others
The LADWP saga remains pretty unresolved. But without getting specific, Peters’ lawyer pointed out that no one else besides him and Paradis has been charged in-connection with the collusive Jones lawsuit.
“Aside from Mr. Paradis, none of the attorneys who were the central participants in the collusive Jones lawsuit have been charged criminally,” wrote Peters’ attorney Jeffrey Rutherford of Kendall Brill & Kelly. “No charges have been brought against the attorneys who handled the mediation and settlement of Jones, or who handled multiple court appearances in which the collusive origins and settlement of the lawsuit were not disclosed or were actively concealed.”
The court-appointed Special Master’s report says a number of attorneys working for the city of LA committed numerous state bar violations, including former city outside counsel at Liner LLP. The report said former Liner attorneys Maribeth Annaguey and Angela Agrusa committed 10 state bar ethical violations, including deceit and collusion and moral turpitude. City attorneys Richard Tom, Deborah Dorny and Eskel Solomon also committed the same ethical violations, according to the report.
Peters does, however, say the Jones settlement negotiations were headed by Clark, Feuer’s number two.
“Those negotiations were headed by Mr. Clark, with Mr. Paradis’ active assistance,” wrote Peters attorney.
Prosecutors also say it was not Paradis or Kiesel in their capacity as outside lawyers, but “a senior city attorney official” who trolled for a fake opponent to file the sham Jones lawsuit as a way to knock out all the pending lawsuits the city was facing in the wake of LADWP’s huge billing misfire.
“Consequently, within a few weeks, a senior City Attorney official directed Paradis and Kiesel to find outside counsel that would be friendly to the City to represent the ratepayer Jones in a suit against the City itself in a “white-knight” class action lawsuit,” wrote prosecutors. Could that be Clark? It’s someone, and that person has not been brought to heel yet.
Peters sentencing is scheduled for May 9.
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