Ex-Industry City Manager Files Constitutional Complaint Against Charges in $20M Misappropriation Case – Orange County Register

The lawyers of a former industrial city executive will argue before a jury that their client was stripped of his constitutional rights during a preliminary hearing that determined he should stand trial in connection with a $20 million embezzlement scandal were, according to new court documents.

Attorneys Joe Weimortz and Steve Cooley allege former Industry and Bell Administrator Paul Philips was denied his right to a due process because the judge prevented witnesses from testifying about confidential conversations protected by attorney-client privilege or during of the closed meetings of the City Council took place.

The filing alleges the ruling prevented potentially exculpatory evidence from being presented during Philips’ lengthy pre-trial hearing, which ran sporadically from February until his court order in October. Throughout the process, whenever any issue began to drift into these prohibited areas, an industry advocate would object. According to court records, privilege was invoked 39 times during the hearing to stop testimony.

After a hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 16, Los Angeles Superior Court Justice Ronald Coen established a jury in January to consider the matter, Cooley said.

“This motion requests the trial judge to dismiss the criminal complaint either in part or in full,” Cooley said.

During the preliminary hearing, the industry’s refusal to waive the privilege of the closed session – something the city council could do at any time with a majority decision – handicapped both the defense and the prosecution’s questioning.

Assistant District Attorney Ana Marie Lopez, in a written objection to the defense motion, disagreed with the argument that Philips had been denied his rights. Philips and his attorneys were allowed to present evidence during a closed hearing — which excluded the public, prosecutors and industry advocates — before Judge Michael Pastor, who presided over the preliminary hearing. However, Pastor determined that the defense did not meet the burden required for him to allow Philips to breach confidentiality requirements protected by state law.

The defense also failed to take the necessary steps to challenge the excluded testimonies during the preliminary hearing, Lopez wrote.

Paul Philips, former City Manager of the City of Industry (file photo)
Paul Philips, former City Manager of the City of Industry (file photo)

“The defendant has not requested that a witness be recalled or that a closed-camera hearing be requested to determine the materiality of the excluded testimony,” she wrote.

Philips, who ran Industry from 2015 to 2018, is accused of assisting developer William Barkett and an adviser, former Senator Frank Hill, in an alleged plan to steal funds from a proposed solar farm project. Philips is accused of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and money laundering. The final two charges were added after the preliminary hearing ended and are based on Philips’ alleged complicity in these crimes. No evidence was presented during the preliminary hearing that he personally received any of the stolen funds.

The pitch to build a 450-megawatt solar farm on Land Industry between Diamond Bar and Chino Hills was first secretly approved in closed session in May 2016 and only publicly voted on more than a year later.

Philips’ lawyers have claimed that the former city manager was merely following the council’s instructions.

By the time the project fell apart, Industry had paid $20 million to San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, a Barkett and Hill-owned company with very little oversight. Investigators later found that bills submitted to the city for reimbursement had been noticeably altered or entirely forged, resulting in millions of dollars in overspending.

Barkett, the developer, is said to have spent more than $8 million of the funds on personal causes, including his daughter’s lavish wedding on the French Riviera.

Barkett, Hill and attorney Anthony Bouza, who served as the city’s chief negotiator even though Barkett owed him $1.5 million, have yet to begin their preliminary hearings. Previously, in March 2022, they had pleaded not guilty to the various charges against them.

https://www.ocregister.com/2022/11/20/ex-industry-city-manager-files-constitutional-challenge-to-charges-in-20-million-embezzlement-case/ Ex-Industry City Manager Files Constitutional Complaint Against Charges in $20M Misappropriation Case – Orange County Register

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