By Brian Hews
Hews Media Group-Community News exclusively reported Thursday Jan. 7 that Los Angeles-based attorney John W. Harris of Harris and Associates – a friend of Central Basin Municipal Water District (CB) Director Leticia Vasquez – massively overbilled the Lakewood-based Water Replenishment District (WRD) over a two-year period.
Records obtained by HMG-CN indicate that Harris’ small firm billed WRD over $2.7 million in that time span.
Harris’ attorney at the time, Adam Kargman, sent a detailed letter with proof of the overbillings to WRD President Rob Katherman, Vice-president William H. Murray, Board-members Sergio Calderon, Albert Robles, and Lynn Dymally, along with GM Robb Whitaker, and Chief Financial Officer Scott Ota.
The document pointed out that in one month, January 2014, Harris padded Kargman’s time, adding over 51 bogus hours to his bill, amounting to over $14,000 in overbilling.
An investigation was initiated with Harris entering into a “settlement agreement.”
CB General Manager Kevin Hunt and Nossaman’s CB attorney Alfred E. Smith II had “no idea” about Harris’ overbillings and chose Harris as one of three finalists for CB’s autonomous “Ethics Investigation Counsel.”
They both found out that Thursday when HMG-CN published the overbilling story online at loscerritosnews.net and in its’ print newspaper the next day.
Yet Hunt, Smith II, CB President Bob Apodaca, Vice-president James Roybal and Director Vasquez ignored the documented proof presented online by HMG-CN that Harris overbilled WRD and allowed Harris to interview for CB’s Ethics Investigation Counsel on Friday Jan. 8.
“These are just allegations,” Roybal said during the interview, “you are innocent until proven guilty.” Vasquez echoed Royal’s statement and urged the board to interview Harris.
One long-time observer of CB said, “do you really think CB just ‘found’ Harris and Associates out of the blue? If you think that, I have a bridge to sell you. Vasquez and Roybal are tied to him, and Vasquez’ husband, attorney Ron Wilson, is good friends with Harris.”
Now, further investigation into Harris’ past by HMG-CN has revealed additional connections, once again somehow missed by Hunt and Smith II, between Harris, CB Director Vasquez, and CB Vice-president James Roybal.
This after both Directors claimed they had no further connections to Harris at the Jan. 8 board meeting.
In 2012, WRD Director Rob Katherman started a political action committee (PAC) called Coalition for Clean Affordable Water.
In an interview with HMG-CN, Katherman confirmed he was actively involved in the PAC that helped Vasquez and Roybal get elected to the CB board in 2012.
Many in the industry questioned Katherman’s motives in starting the PAC, with some saying that WRD was attempting to “take over” CB.
Katherman told HMG-CN that the PAC “raised campaign contributions and produced campaign materials that led to the successful election of recalled Lynwood City Council member and Mayor Leticia Vasquez and James Roybal to the CB Board of Directors.”
An examination of campaign donations to the PAC reveal that John W. Harris and his law firm Harris and Associates gave the PAC $1,000.
And Vasquez and Roybal knew Harris gave money to the PAC yet interviewed Harris for a position at CB.
The PAC spent over $8,600 on Royal’s campaign, a donation he failed to report at the time, and spent over $6,300 on Vasquez’ campaign, which she did report.
Involved in the PAC were the usual cast of characters that seem to always be involved with Vasquez and Roybal: convicted felon Ricardo “Ric” Mayer, who donated $13,000 to the PAC; $7,000 from the law offices of Leal-Trejo; felon who plead down to a misdemeanor Angel Gonzales, whom the PAC spent over $18,000 in printing and mailing services.
Mayer was the highest donor in the PAC at $13,000; he and Gonzales also loaned over $35,000 to Vasquez and Roybal’s personal campaign committees, as reported on their individual campaign documents.
CB Director Art Chacon asked Harris at the Friday interview if any connections existed between CB board members and Harris.
Vasquez indicated she was friends with Harris, but Harris failed to mention the donation that helped her get elected.
Roybal said nothing at the interview about the Harris donation.
After the election, Katherman said that he met with the officials inside Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office about his involvement in the PAC.
Katherman said at the time that he is “probably under the microscope now” with legal authorities, but did not say if he was under any type of formal criminal investigation.
HMG-CN contacted CB for a comment from Vasquez and Roybal, both chose not to comment on the story.
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