City of In­dus­try to as­say oust­ing at­tor­ney

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - Kim Chris­tensen and Frank Shy­ong kim.chris­tensen@la­times.com frank.shy­ong@la­times.com

In one of its first of­fi­cial acts, the City of In­dus­try’s new city coun­cil on Tues­day called for a spe­cial meet­ing to dis­cuss fir­ing the city at­tor­ney who spear­headed a law­suit against the pow­er­ful Perez fam­ily and its busi­nesses.

Three new coun­cil mem­bers, all with busi­ness or per­sonal ties to for­mer Mayor David Perez and his fam­ily, were sworn in Tues­day af­ter­noon. Min­utes later they sched­uled a closed ses­sion for Wed­nes­day with one topic on the agenda: dis­miss­ing and re­plac­ing City Atty. Michele Vadon.

Vadon, who has been City of In­dus­try’s city at­tor­ney since 1998, also came un­der fire Tues­day from Perez lawyers, who moved to dis­qual­ify her from the law­suit she filed last month ac­cus­ing the ex-mayor and his fam­ily’s com­pa­nies of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing mil­lions of dol­lars of public funds.

The law­suit ac­cuses Perez, his com­pa­nies and four neph­ews of fraud­u­lently col­lect­ing mil­lions of dol­lars through unau­tho­rized work and false or inf lated in­voices. It al­leges, among other things, that their Zerep Man­age­ment Corp. billed for ser­vices that weren’t per­formed and rental equip­ment that wasn’t used.

In a mo­tion in Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court, Perez at­tor­neys con­tend that Vadon filed the law­suit to pro­tect her own fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. She and her firm, Burke, Wil­liams and Sorensen, col­lected nearly $10 mil­lion in legal fees in the last five years un­der a con­tract with the city, the mo­tion states.

“Af­ter years of reap­ing the benefits of an ab­surdly lu­cra­tive con­tract with the City of In­dus­try [Vadon and her f irm] are des­per­ately try­ing to main­tain their grasp on the of­fice of City At­tor­ney and the mil­lions of dol­lars per year that the city pays them for ‘ legal ser­vices,’” the mo­tion states.

It ac­cuses Vadon of conf lict of in­ter­est: “In her role as chief legal ad­vi­sor, not only did the City At­tor­ney likely ob­tain con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing Mayor David Perez, one of the in­di­vid­u­als she now seeks to pros­e­cute, but she ad­vised, coun­seled and ap­proved the very same ac­tions by the Mayor that she now hyp­o­crit­i­cally con­demns.”

Vadon de­clined to com­ment.

Charles Slyn­gstad, an­other Burke Wil­liams at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the city, de­nied that the law­suit was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and de­fended Vadon’s han­dling of it. He said there was no conf lict of in­ter­est be­cause she rep­re­sented the city’s in­ter­est, not Perez’s.

Slyn­gstad said he had not ver­i­fied the billing fig­ures quoted in the mo­tion but that his firm’s charges were ap­pro­pri­ate. “It’s a tac­ti­cal move to try to def lect at­ten­tion away from [Perez’s] fam­ily’s prof­it­ing for more than a decade on con­tracts that were too lu­cra­tive,” he said of the mo­tion.

Zerep’s charges for street sweep­ing, build­ing main­te­nance and other ser­vices have at­tracted scru­tiny since April, when KPMG au­di­tors brought in to re­view records af­ter Perez re­signed in 2012 re­ported that his fam­ily’s busi­nesses had reaped $326 mil­lion from city con­tracts since 1995. The city can­celed its con­tract with Zerep in Septem­ber.

The Los An­ge­les County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice and the state con­troller are con­duct­ing sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Perezes’ fi­nan­cial deal­ings with the city.

The coun­cil on Tues­day also rec­og­nized a pe­ti­tion by sev­eral res­i­dents to re­peal a re­cently passed or­di­nance that pre­vents the re­moval of the city at­tor­ney, city manager and city clerk for at least 180 days af­ter new mem­bers are sworn in.

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