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Home / FBI sting operation

Former officials plead not guilty in alleged solar power corruption scheme

A former state legislator, a La Jolla-based developer and an attorney — who are charged along with a former Industry city manager — pleaded not guilty Monday to charges stemming from what prosecutors contend was a corruption scheme involving a proposed solar power facility.

Former Sen. Frank Hill, R-Whittier, 68, pleaded not guilty to a newly filed count of misappropriation of public funds, along with two counts filed last August accusing him of having a financial interest in a contract or a purchase made in an official capacity.

Developer William Joseph Barkett, 63, pleaded not guilty to 44 newly filed counts of forgery, along with one count each of misappropriation of public funds, grand theft by embezzlement of public funds, grand theft and money laundering that were filed against him last summer.

Anthony Stewart Bouza, a 61-year-old attorney, pleaded not guilty to eight counts of having a financial interest in a contract or purchase made in an official capacity and one count of misappropriation of public funds.

The three are charged along with former Industry city manager Paul Jule Phillips, 71, for whom an off-and-on hearing is set to resume next week to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against him to proceed to trial.

The case stems 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, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

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 August announcing the charges.

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 last year that the case remained under investigation.

Hill, who also served in the state Assembly, was sentenced to 46 months in prison 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.

Shortly after being charged, Phillips “left his position” as the city manager of Bell based on “mutual agreement,” according to a statement issued by the city, which noted that the criminal case does not involve his service with the city of Bell or that city in any way.

“The city has no evidence of any wrongdoing by Mr. Philips in the city of Bell. Nevertheless, it was concluded that it is in the best interest of both parties for Mr. Philips to be separated from the city so he may focus on conducting a vigorous defense of the charge. Accordingly, the council approved a separation agreement and waiver of claims,” according to the city of Bell.

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