LOS ANGELES (CN) — The lawyer at the center of a plot that saw the city attorney's office orchestrate a class action against Los Angeles to minimize liability from a botched billing system was sentenced to 33 months in prison on Tuesday.
Paul Paradis, 60, was also given three years' supervised release following his prison time.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. rejected the government's recommendation of 18 months' custody, as well as Paradis' bid for probation only. Blumenfeld said that the sprawling corruption schemes Paradis was involved in required a more substantial sentence to promote respect for the law.
"There's no individual in this entire sordid affair more responsible than Mr. Paradis," the judge said. "He corrupted the city attorney's office as well as the Department of Water and Power."
Paradis was hired as special counsel by the LA city attorney's office in 2014 to be its point person as the city faced a deluge of lawsuits from the malfunctioning billing software that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had rolled out the previous year. The change resulted in tens of thousands of customers being overbilled.
The lawyer cooked up a "white-knight" strategy through a friendly Ohio lawyer, which would allow the city to consolidate and settle the litigation on agreeable terms. Paradis drafted the complaint, hand-picked the Ohio attorney to file it, and crafted the plaintiffs' demands, while engaging in sham mediation sessions that resulted in a $67 million settlement.
In addition, Paradis secretly demanded that the Ohio lawyer give him a $2.18 million kickback, or about 20 percent of the fees the lawyer received as part of the settlement.
Paradis wasn't done, however. He also bribed the general manager of LADWP in order to get a three-year, $30 million no-bid contract to remediate the utility's billing system. For that purpose, Paradis had created a new company, Aventador. He promised the utility's general manager to make him chief executive of the venture, with a $1 million annual salary and a Mercedes, in return for the contract.
"Corruption is contagious, and so too was defendant’s unlawful conduct," prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in LA said in their sentencing memorandum. "Most notably, defendant’s actions led to multiple extortion plots related to concealing documents that would reveal the collusive litigation scheme."
As news began to leak about the city's involvement in the filing of the ratepayers' lawsuit in 2019, Paradis started collaborating with federal investigators. He agreed to plead guilty two years ago.
The judge noted Paradis' extraordinary cooperation, which yielded several convictions. However, the judge said that it was somewhat ironic because the only reason Paradis was so helpful to the FBI was because he had placed himself at the center of the corruption schemes.
"There's no excuse for what I did," Paradis said at his sentencing in LA federal court Tuesday. "I'm sincerely sorry for what I did. I'm a changed man — I'm a broken man."
David Wright, the former head of the LADWP, the largest municipal utility in the country, was sentenced to six years in prison last year for agreeing to take bribes from Paradis.
A former litigator with the city attorney's office escaped prison time because of his cooperation with the federal investigation, and got three years' probation for aiding and abetting the extortion of an outside lawyer who worked for the city on the collusive ratepayers class action.
Thomas Peters pleaded guilty in 2022 to pressuring Paul Kiesel, a special counsel for the city, to give in to a $1 million extortion demand by Kiesel's recently fired secretary, who had evidence the city was behind the class action filed on behalf LADWP ratepayers against Los Angeles. Peters had threatened to fire Kiesel if he didn't take care of the extortion threat, even if it meant paying up.Follow @edpettersson
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