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Former Lynwood Mayor Takes the Stand in His Corruption Trial

October 22, 2005|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

Former Lynwood Mayor Paul Richards denied Friday that he set up a consulting firm in the name of his sister and nephew in order to profit from the award of city contracts.

Testifying as the last witness in his federal corruption trial, the 49-year-old Richards told jurors he did not disclose his connection to the firm, Allied Government Services, because he believed doing so was not required.

Moreover, he said he feared that revealing his association would "politicize" the programs that the firm was hired to work on.

"Some people were predisposed to attack anything I was involved with," said Richards, who was ousted in a recall election two years ago.

"But the real reason you didn't disclose your involvement was because you didn't want to be sitting where you are today," retorted Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Shallman.

Richards' lawyer rose to object and U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ordered the jury to disregard the remark.

The government contends that Richards orchestrated a scheme to steer more than $2.5 million in no-bid city contracts to Allied, which he secretly controlled.

On trial with Richards are his sister, Paula Cameo Harris, 56, of Altadena, a bank employee who was listed as Allied's president; and Bevan Thomas, 56, of Anaheim, a longtime friend charged with paying kickbacks to Richards for city business.

Richards testified that Allied was the brainchild of his nephew, Julio Naulls, whom he took under his wing as a young boy. Naulls later managed several of Richards' political campaigns and served as Allied's vice president until the two men had a falling-out.

The former mayor acknowledged having helped Naulls draft contract proposals that were submitted to the city, but he insisted that was the extent of his involvement.

Testifying for the prosecution, Naulls disputed Richards' account. He said his uncle called the shots for Allied, which had no office, equipment or capital.

Naulls said he served as Richards' conduit in dealings with city officials and contractors.

"This is how Petey [Richards' nickname] wants it done," he recalled telling people.

According to prosecutors, Richards and the majority City Council bloc he controlled voted in 2001 to hire Allied as its representative in the selection of a company to erect billboards along the Century Freeway in Lynwood. Allied was to receive 20% of all fees the city collected.

Behind the scenes, the prosecution charged, Richards was already negotiating a deal with Regency Outdoor Advertising, making Allied's hiring a wasteful and unnecessary expense.

Regency was eventually awarded a no-bid contract to build a dozen huge billboards along the freeway. The company agreed to pay the city $4.8 million, of which $960,000 would have gone to Allied. In late 2001, Richards lost his council majority and the deal was scrapped.

Naulls testified that he and Harris performed no meaningful work on the contract and that the actual negotiations were conducted by a law firm hired by Allied at Richards' direction.

Richards also denied pressuring the city's trolley service operator, Commuter Bus Lines, to hire Allied as a $7,500-a-month consultant in exchange for a five-year contract renewal.

Neither Naulls nor Harris had backgrounds in transportation. Richards said both were well-qualified to perform the work because "they know Lynwood."

The trolley contract was also rescinded after Richards lost power.

Also at issue in the trial was the award of a $5,000-a-week contract to Thomas to remove litter, weeds and other public eyesores from public streets and property.

At Richards' insistence, prosecutors charged, Thomas subcontracted the job to Allied, taking $1,000 a week for himself. Allied then paid Richards' gardener and others $800 to $1,200 a week to perform the actual work.

Testifying in his own defense, Thomas denied that Richards ever ordered him to hire Allied. He said he hired Naulls because Richards' nephew had previously worked as a special projects manager for the city's Public Works Department.

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