LOS ANGELES: The federal conspiracy and wire-fraud trial of former Fleishman-Hillard Los Angeles GM Doug Dowie and SVP John Stodder continued Wednesday with another day of cross-examination focused on one-time agency VP of public affairs Monique Moret.
"These bills are quite long, aren't they, Miss Moret?" asked Stodder's attorney Jan Handzlik, resuming his line of witness questioning cut short by Tuesday's end-of-workday recess.
Collected, and dressed in a sophisticated black business suit for her initial day on the stand, Moret, witness for the prosecution, described her role in preparing monthly invoices on behalf of the firm's lucrative LA Department of Water and Power (LA DWP) account. After employees entered their billable hours in a computer program called PeopleSoft, she explained, a billing worksheet would be generated in Fleishman's St. Louis headquarters. That sheet, Moret said, would be used by her and her assistant to prepare a detailed activity and project-code report to be sent to the client for payment.
It was after the "first run" of the billing worksheets when allegedly fraudulently worked hours would be added, Moret explained. Under the direction of her supervisor, John Stodder, Moret said she would add hours to various employees' entries, then re-submit to St. Louis before compiling invoices.
Handzlik, often ending statements and questions with "isn't that correct?," at first came across as charmingly scattered; he misplaced paperwork and habitually played with his eyeglasses.
As the morning proceeded, however, that behavior seemed to be serving as his modus operandi rather than a mere character trait. In his five hours of questioning, Handzlik came across as avuncular as he tried to mar Moret's credibility as a witness – in essence, impeaching her – by showing her numerous examples of "good write ups" she had previously suggested were illegitimate. He additionally attempted to place doubt on both her personal work principles and that of Fleishman's LA DWP-assigned staff as a whole.
"You were never trained on the ethics of time-keeping, were you?" he asked, later wondering if it "ever occurred to her" that it could be considered "deceiving and cheating and stealing" to "write up" bills in any way.
The day did have its highlights: On more than one occasion, US District Judge Gary Feess sternly reminded Handzlik that, "If I don't get the point, I don't think the jury's getting the point." And when Moret realized she recognized one of the jurors as a checker at her neighborhood grocery store, there was some tense, out-of-earshot discussion as how this could potentially affect the case. (Apparently the juror's insight to Moret's produce-purchasing habits was determined not to be a problem; she remains on the panel.)
At the end of yesterday's cross-examination, Judge Feess noted that the trial's expected three- to four-week time range seemed "woefully short at this point." While a new estimate was not made, all counsel appeared to agree.
The trial is scheduled to continue Thursday morning with another "two to three hours" of Handzlik-Moret cross-examination.