LA mayoral candidate leads protest over DWP rates and billing scandal

Following a state corruption investigation by the Department of Water and Power and prosecutors, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Mel Wilson Friday asked the utility to lower billing rates and conduct a formal audit of its finances.

Wilson blamed City Atty. Mike Feuer, who is also running for mayor, and Mayor Eric Garcetti for failing to protect the DWP from being used by corrupt individuals.

“The DWP has become the piggy bank for all the underhand things that’s going on in our city,” Wilson told about two dozen supporters gathered outside a DWP building on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Wilson grabbed a hammer and hit a porcelain piggy bank that was sitting on a DWP planter; it shattered, dollar bills tumbled out, and the group cheered.

“Let’s get our money back!” Wilson shouted.

Prosecutors have announced four settlements in the federal investigation by the DWP and prosecutors over disputes arising from the botched introduction of a new utility billing system in 2013.

Prosecutors say the city’s legal team secretly worked with an Ohio attorney to quickly settle a class-action lawsuit brought by DWP customers over the new billing system that overcharged hundreds of thousands of customers. The plea agreements describe the alleged bribes, kickbacks and extortion associated with the legal transactions.

The scandal could cost the utility hundreds of millions of dollars, and several related lawsuits could take years to resolve.

Dan Schultz, 85, a Van Nuys resident, carried a sign that read “We’re not your piggy bank” to Friday’s protests.

“Corruption is not being addressed by the mayor and city council,” Shultz said.

Wilson, a former Metro board member who owns a real estate company in the San Fernando Valley, is the latest mayoral candidate to draw attention to the corruption scandal.

Entrepreneur Ramit Varma, who is also running for mayor, earlier this month urged Feuer to resign as city attorney and give up his run for mayor.

“In what world does anyone think they should be rewarded with greater responsibility when they have failed so spectacularly?” Varma asked the Times. “Only one place: LA City Hall.”

Downtown Store Manager Jessica Lall said last month she would set up an independent Citizens Commission to oversee the DWP.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s much outrage at City Hall,” Lall said of the scandal. “Who takes responsibility? Who should be held accountable? Who is asking the tough questions from the political side?”

A spokesman for Feuer said last week the prosecutor was unaware of the secret lawsuit. Feuer also said last week that he “continued to not only be cooperative but actively assist whenever appropriate” when it came to the investigation.

Feuer said he acknowledges “any mistakes or serious mistakes that have come out of this office as well, because that’s what leaders do.”

A DWP spokesman on Friday pointed to a utility program that the utility said recently reimbursed $285 million to financially troubled customers.

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