Dowie says he was fall guy

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“I don’t think I’m responsible,” he said. I’m not repentant; I’m not sure what I’d repent for.” “I didn’t litter, I hadn’t had a ticket … I joined the Marines out of high school because I felt it was my responsibility. I never had any doubt I was on the right side and then one day you’re in this Kafkaesque nightmare.” Convicted at trial along with Dowie was his assistant, John Stodder, 50, of Palos Verdes Estates. Another top assistant, Steve Sugerman, a former deputy mayor in the Riordan administration who now has his own P.R. firm in the city, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was a key witness at the trial. Wearing a dark suit with a handkerchief neatly folded in the pocket and a yellow tie, Dowie said his highly visible position as the head of a prominent and politically connected firm made him vulnerable to dishonest employees and a company that wouldn’t protect him once accusations of wrongdoing surfaced. “It was the most enormous squeeze in the world,” Dowie said. “Once they decide who to blame, everyone plays their role … Someone has to be in the middle; someone has to take the fall. There’s a former Marine, an ex-editor who was profiled in Los Angeles Magazine … there’s a good one.” Breaking his two-year silence, former Fleishman-Hillard public relations executive Doug Dowie says he’s a fall guy in an investigation of Los Angeles City Hall corruption that failed to net a single public official. Dowie, a key adviser and insider in Mayor James Hahn’s administration, was convicted May 16 by a federal court jury on 15 counts of conspiracy and wire fraud in a scheme that involved overbilling the Department of Water and Power, the Port of Los Angeles, the Worldwide Church of God and architect Frank Gehry’s firm for his services. While he offered no defense at trial, Dowie, 58, a longtime West Hills resident, agreed to be interviewed by two of his former reporters when he was an editor at the Daily News from 1985 to 1990. The interview Thursday, which he described as “therapeutic,” was conducted at the Pacific Dining Car in downtown Los Angeles, a favorite haunt of Dowie’s, and one that is a regular meeting place for the city’s political elite. While Dowie intends a lengthy appeal of the verdict in the case, his failure to accept responsibility could backfire at sentencing with no-nonsense U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and Loyola Law School professor. “At sentencing, the courts give you a break for accepting responsibility,” Levenson said. “You usually get more credit for taking responsibility than blaming others. (Judge) Feess is really a straightforward judge and expects defendants to be so as well.” The charges grew out of the lengthy “pay-to-play” investigation of allegations contractors were being pressured to make political contributions. The probe remains open officially but the only charges brought involve the $300,000 in overbilling of the DWP, the port, and the other two clients hired by Fleishman-Hillard. Dowie said his relationship to Hahn’s aides, specifically former Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, and the pro bono work done on Hahn’s behalf were unrelated to the company winning millions of dollars in city contracts. There was no private understanding with anyone in the Mayor’s Office with regard to the DWP billings or contract, he said. He said a “synergy” did develop and that Edwards, and Hahn’s Chief of Staff Tim McOsker would call for advice or perspective on city – but not political – matters, and that Fleishman-Hillard did raise funds or contribute to Hahn, as well as his campaign against San Fernando Valley cityhood. But such a close involvement was the way the City Hall system worked and he had contributed to City Controller Laura Chick’s campaign and given free advice to her until their friendship fell apart when her investigation of the $3-million-a-year DWP contract led to a “perfect storm” swirling around Fleishman-Hillard, Dowie said. At no time, he said, was his firm’s free work for Hahn, L.A.’s Best and a citywide book-reading campaign billed to DWP accounts. Dowie said he was never offered anything by the government, a team led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Kamenstein, for information regarding pay-to-play, or other matters. “I didn’t have anything.” Kamenstein said, “The verdict speaks for itself. The evidence more than supported the charges against him and the jury agreed.” Dominick Rubalcava, a Dowie friend who served as president of the DWP’s board of commissioners for Hahn, called Fleishman-Hillard’s work “first class.” “They did what they were hired for,” Rubalcava said. “Given what has happened with these charges being proved, it’s a terrible disappointment.” Now living in an apartment in Westwood, Dowie said he believed his high-powered team of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyers provided aggressive cross-examination of witnesses, including addressing issues raised in a Jan. 6, 2003 e-mail string that included him asking Stodder how much they could “pad” the DWP account and whether it could take as much as $30,000 – an e-mail jurors cited as helping seal their decision. “Will I to my dying day regret using `pad’ for `add?’ Of course I will,” Dowie said, insisting the e-mail was taken out of context out of more than 1 million messages and without regard for all the conversations going on at that time. “If I’d planned to do something (improper), let alone illegal, I wouldn’t … send it around the world.” In retrospect, he said he wishes he would have launched a full-fledged investigation or called the cops when an account executive, Fred Muir, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, in October 2003 made allegations of fraudulent billings after Dowie upbraided him for taking clients to his new firm. “Fred Muir’s charge was an insult,” Dowie said. “We weren’t a bunch of guys sitting around a shack doing something wrong.” Dowie said he trusted his employees “enormously,” and that in some cases while they “clearly were being dishonest,” they might not have felt they were until they were caught “in this nightmare.” He said Fleishman-Hillard’s billing system was such that it made writing up the bills easy: “It’s like having a kid in a grocery store punch in for you.” And since the company billed the DWP about $25 million over the life of the contracts, he said the magnitude of the employees’ dishonesty if they just added a few thousand dollars was “like someone swiping half-and-half out of the refrigerator in the office kitchen.” Sometimes he drove his employees too hard, he says. “Clearly there are people who worked for me over the last 30 years who didn’t like my style and I feel bad about it. I never meant to belittle anyone, or hurt anyone’s feelings.” Dowie’s conviction makes it unlikely he will be able to revive his wrongful dismissal suit against Fleishman-Hillard – the St. Louis-based company he feels betrayed him to protect the firm. A federal judge already has tentatively ruled against him. “In the Marines we never let our dead stay on the battlefield; at Fleishman-Hillard they walked around the battlefield and shot their wounded.” Richard S. Kline, the firm’s general manager in Los Angeles said Dowie was treated “more than fairly and completely appropriately.” “The judgment of the court speaks for itself.” Asked about the prospects of prison, Dowie said he’s not scared of it, hardened by Marine training at Parris Island, S.C., and a 13-month tour in Vietnam during the war. He said he’d be “at a loss” to explain why he was in prison. “I don’t know what I’d tell my cellmate … that I made money to send to St. Louis so they could stab me in the back and then (cooperate) with the U.S. attorney? I’d be the most stupid guy in the chow line.” Overall, he remains proud of the work he did as a journalist, and as a P.R. man; proud of his decisiveness and fearlessness in the face of confrontation, adding no one testified the job he and the company did wasn’t “superb.” “I was a star up to the day I wasn’t a star at Fleishman-Hillard.” [email protected] (818) 713-3731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img