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Scandals' Ugly Scabs

June 07, 2005

Last week brought new developments in two long-running scandals, one involving county-owned Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, the other Los Angeles City Hall. In both cases, the rip-offs of taxpayers (and betrayal of the public's trust) appeared to be astonishingly routine, blatant and unconstrained. Perhaps that's because government responses to the scams have been slow, cautious and limited.

In Scandal No. 1, Times reporters uncovered a county memo relating how Dr. George E. Locke, former chairman of neurosciences at King/Drew, received close to $11,000 in "free" medical care from the hospital. (A Times investigation last year found Locke also had exaggerated the hours he billed.)

In Scandal No. 2, a federal grand jury indicted Douglas R. Dowie, the former head of public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard's L.A. office, for ordering subordinates to inflate the hours they worked under contracts with the city Department of Water and Power and the Port of Los Angeles.

Attorneys for Locke and Dowie say that their clients did nothing wrong.

In Dowie's case, that's for a judge and jury to decide after wading through the e-mails in the indictment, including one from Dowie that asks a fellow indictee whether they could "pad" the monthly bill to the DWP by adding $30,000 of "ambiguous counseling for the mayor." See what we mean by blatant?

As for Locke, the once highest-paid doctor at King/Drew agreed to "retire" in February after reaching a confidential deal outlined in the memo. That's right, retire. See what we mean by feeble responses?

If -- as the county's health director, Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, contends -- legal costs make it too expensive to fire county workers even in cases as flagrant as Locke's, then change civil service rules. But even worse than not firing Locke, the confidential agreement called for the county to provide a "neutral response" to any inquiries from Locke's prospective employers.

The official response to the Dowie case ranged from first-rate to just lame.

City Controller Laura Chick launched an audit. City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo filed a since-settled civil suit. The county district attorney and U.S. attorney opened criminal investigations. (Why aren't they doing this at King/Drew?)

Mayor James K. Hahn, whose campaigns benefited from Dowie's contributions and whose office benefited from pro bono advice and that "ambiguous counseling," canceled all city contracts with outside PR firms.

But in this as in the other questionable contracting practices under investigation, Hahn held no one inside City Hall responsible for the lack of oversight.

Hahn merely ordered the DWP's acting manager to go back to his old job as chief administrative officer, from which he later retired. It's bad enough that scam artists feel entitled to rip off taxpayers. The city and county don't have to make it so easy.

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