From Raymond Chandler to Walter Mosley, Los Angeles has a long history of producing stellar crime writing.
Now there’s a new addition to the canon: the Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Attorney’s office and its just-released 52-page summary of its investigation into David Wright, the former general manager of the Department of Water and Power.
On Monday federal prosecutors announced that Wright, 62, agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery for infractions committed as part of his relationship with attorney Paul Paradis, who had been snagged in an FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation into the DWP billing debacle that caused one Van Nuys couple to be hit with a nearly $52,000 bill. Wright is scheduled to make his first appearance in U.S. District Court on Friday.
The Feds’ 19-page “Information” document and Wright’s 33-page plea agreement are packed with depictions of law-breaking so brazen that a crime novelist like Chandler would have dismissed them as implausible.
Wright took charge of the DWP in 2016. The following year, according to the salary-tracking website Transparent California, his total annual compensation was more than $528,000. That same year, according to investigators, he and Paradis hatched what documents refer to as “The Aventador Bribery Scheme.”
Paradis was deeply familiar with the DWP, as he had represented the utility in its lawsuit against PricewaterhouseCoopers over the bungled rollout of a customer billing system. Paradis secured some $6 million in contracts from the DWP for legal work related to addressing the billing snafu. As the world later learned, Paradis was simultaneously representing ratepayers suing the DWP over inflated bills. Paradis pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge for accepting an illegal kickback of nearly $2.2 million from an Ohio attorney who served as the putative lead lawyer for the ratepayers while Paradis did the work.
In early 2017, Wright and Paradis cooked up the idea for Aventador Utility Solutions, a new company formed by Paradis, to seek a $30 million no-bid contract to provide information technology services that the DWP theoretically sorely needed. (For those who associate “Aventador” with the Lamborghini supercar of the same name, stand by.)
According to the investigation, Wright would sell the Aventador contract to the DWP board while keeping his relationship with Paradis on the down-low. Wright duly lobbied board members and persuaded them that only Aventador could do the work. The hubris was Trumpian; the plea agreement recounts how, on May 17, 2017, Wright texted Paradis: “We will get this all done and fuck anyone that tries to get in the way.”
They indeed got it done, as on June 6, the board approved a three-year, $30 million contract for Aventador.
What was in it for Wright? The documents detail how he and Paradis planned for Wright to finish his run at DWP and then become CEO of Aventador, where he would earn $1 million a year. (Wright characterized Paradis as his “ATM.”) The salary wasn’t the only lure. Wright was also promised a $100,000-plus Mercedes SL 550 as part of his compensation. As for the partnership’s namesake, which Paradis and Wright picked together, a 2020 Aventador S Coupe starts at $417,826, so whoever funded the company would actually get off cheap with the Benz.
How did federal officials know so much about the scheme? Just like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, Paradis began cooperating with the FBI in 2019, shortly after the Los Angeles Times reported allegations of Paradis suing the DWP while also working as a special counsel for the city.
From this point forward, Wright was cooked. The documents describe how, in the days after Paradis flipped, Wright asked him to wipe Wright’s phone and laptop of many emails and texts. Wright also told Paradis he had gone through his office and “thrown out a ‘shitload’ of physical materials.” In a particularly poignant exchange, Paradis states, “The FBI—you don’t want to fuck around with the FBI.”
To which Wright responds, “Right.”
If there is one thing the FBI especially doesn’t like, it’s when suspects lie to agents. The documents describe Wright sitting down with FBI and USAO representatives in June 2019. During that session, Wright “falsely stated that he did not have any financial or business interest” with Aventador or Paradis. “Defendant Wright knew that these statements were untrue and that his conduct was unlawful.”
The most cinematic passage describes how a wary Wright sought to protect himself with a “dead drop” in a downtown cafe on April 3, 2019. The plea agreement sets the mise-en-scene:
Paradis sits by himself at a corner table with a brown paper bag holding Wright’s supposedly wiped cell phone and a supposedly clean burner phone that the two can use to communicate. (The FBI, of course, provided Paradis, their informant, with both phones.)
Wright enters. Paradis exits to the men’s room while Wright “approached the table, took the bag containing the two phones, and left the café before Paradis returned.”
From there, the story only gets worse for Wright, who apparently had no idea that he was digging a deeper hole for himself.
A few weeks after the dead drop, the two men met at Wright’s residence in Palm Springs and discussed plans for the future. Wright broaches the idea of starting yet another new company as the FBI records their conversation.
Paradis points out, “That’s going to take more thought because—”
Wright interjects, “Because it’s illegal.”
Laughing, Paradis replies, ‘Well, it’s illegal, it’s illegal, but that never stopped us, right?’
Wright laughs in response.
Presumably, Wright is done laughing. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
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