A former state legislator and a La Jolla-based developer made their first court appearances Tuesday in connection with a case stemming from the alleged embezzlement and misappropriation of millions of dollars that was to be used to study whether a solar farm was suitable on land to be bought by the City of Industry.
Former state Sen. Frank Hill, R-Whittier, 67, and William Barkett, 63, did not enter pleas. They are both due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Oct. 27 for arraignment.
The two are charged along with former Industry city manager Paul Jule Philips, 70, and attorney Anthony Bouza, 60. Philips is set to be arraigned Friday, while Bouza’s arraignment date is pending.
Philips, who made his first appearance last Friday on one count of misappropriation of public funds, is now the top administrator in the city of Bell, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which first reported the charges. He was released after being booked Sunday, jail records show.
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who is representing Phillips, told the newspaper that his client is “innocent and wrongly charged.”
Hill is charged with two counts of having a financial interest in a contract or purchase made in an official capacity and is free on bond.
Barkett is charged with one count each of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement, money laundering and grand theft. He was arrested last Wednesday in San Diego County and was expected to be released on $1 million bond after a Los Angeles judge found Tuesday that the source of the bail money was not from the alleged crimes.
Barkett’s attorney, Bill Seki, told reporters outside court that his client is a lifelong California resident who has a medical condition and knew he had been under investigation.
“Most importantly he wants to fight to prove his innocence here,” the defense lawyer said.
Bouza is charged with one count of misappropriation of public funds and eight counts of having a financial interest in a contract or purchase made in an official capacity. He was released from custody on bond about four hours after being arrested last Wednesday, according to jail records.
“Public corruption erodes the trust of our citizenry and hampers progress. There is no place for it in Los Angeles County,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement last week announcing the charges, which were filed Aug. 24.
The City of Industry entered into a land lease agreement between 2016 and 2018 with San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC — which was owned by Barkett — to examine a potential solar farm and agreed to advance certain costs that had to be repaid if construction began.
Phillips and Bouza, an attorney hired by the city and a private contractor who allegedly helped draft an agreement, handled the funds, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Roughly $20 million in public funds was allegedly routed to an account controlled by Barkett during that time, in which some of the money was paid to other vendors and about $8.3 million was allegedly spent by Barkett on personal items, according to prosecutors.
Bouza and Hill are accused of having a financial conflict of interest when they allegedly drafted or influenced contracts with the city, according to the District Attorney’s Office, which noted that the case remains under investigation.
In a statement obtained by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Mayor Cory Moss said, “For years, the city has alleged that SGVWP and related parties submitted false and fraudulent invoices to the city for work that was never performed. It is my hope that the matter moves swiftly and that those who are responsible for this misuse of taxpayer funds are brought to justice.”
A civil case brought by the city — in which former Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is representing Hill — is still pending, the newspaper reported. Rackauckas is also representing Hill in the criminal case.
Hill served a 46-month prison sentence for his 1994 conviction on federal extortion and money laundering charges stemming from a $2,500 payment he took from federal undercover agents in an FBI sting operation.