LOS ANGELES: After more than three weeks of Doug Dowie-John Stodder trial testimony, both the prosecution and defense rested Tuesday, bringing a sooner-than-expected and somewhat anticlimactic close to what had, at times, seemed like an endless assessment of the Fleishman-Hilliard billing system.
For its final witness, prosecutors called upon Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Dane Costley, who had assisted Assistant US Attorneys Adam Kamenstein and Cheryl O'Connor Murphy with the investigation since day one, collecting and analyzing evidence, as well as overseeing its use in the courtroom.
Under cross-examination by Dowie counsel Michael Farhang, Costley – a CPA, lawyer, and 8 ½-year member of the FBI's white-collar crime division – answered questions regarding his collection of Fleishman e-mails and billing documents, subpoenaed from the firm and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power when the investigation launched in 2004.
Not one to deprive the court of detailed accounting mechanics, Farhang led Costley through a Power Point-style bar chart the agent himself had created, highlighting LA DWP billing inconsistencies between 2000 and 2003. Displaying his own, revised version of the graph, Farhang pummeled the tall, chiseled-but-boyish agent with queries about the charts' differences in scale.
"It's important that a chart accurately reflect the information you want it to provide," Costley dryly agreed.
Farhang also questioned Costley about one-time Fleishman client Platinum Equity, an account represented by former firm employee-turned-customer Mark Barnhill. While Barnhill complained about his bills on several occasions – at least once, in an e-mail to Dowie demanding that there be "no more bullshit" charges added to his invoices – he did not take issue with Dowie's work.
For his cross-examination, Stodder attorney Jan Handzlik – who didn't get Tuesday's "black suit" memo – began with an old favorite. "Do you know, Agent Costley, that there are legitimate reasons for some write ups?" he asked,
Removing and replacing his eyeglasses to the beat of some rhythm only he could hear, Handzlik also called attention to Costley's bar chart, requesting a detailed explanation of how it was created.
"I did math, sir," the agent replied, appearing slightly bewildered.
Without calling any witnesses – or putting the former Fleishman GM himself on the stand – Dowie lawyer Tom Holliday told the court his team would rest "based on the state of the evidence"; in short, that Dowie's subordinates marked up clients' bills unbeknownst to him.
Stodder's team, however, called two witnesses to the stand. Jennifer Laird-Manfre, a former Fleishman public affairs division account executive who worked closely with firm VP Hilary Norton, presented a fine example of a too-dedicated-for-her-own-good employee. Manfre recalled that her "normal [work] day was about 7:30 in the morning until about 8 o'clock at night," much of which was spent attending to World Wide Church of God assignments.
Norton, she said, gave her "specific instructions" regarding billing on the account, which often included not documenting at least five to 10 hours a week. "The billings were light," Manfre said, referring to Norton, as well.
Manfre told the court that in September 2003 – after learning that the public affairs division had not met its financial forecast for the month – she discussed her frustration with the under-billing situation with Stodder. During that time, Manfre said that she suggested to Stodder that she should meticulously go over the World Wide Church of God billing worksheets, adding her non-captured time under other employees' names. The process took two days, she said, because she "wanted to be precise."
Revealing a far more aggressive questioning style than he had used with his own witnesses, Assistant US Attorney Kamenstein managed to turn Manfre's Stodder-backing testimony into what may become a government asset. During cross-examination, Manfre acknowledged that she knew her time-entry additions were "false statements," knowingly made after Stodder told her of the need to meet the month's projection. But in the most intriguing segment of her time on the stand, Manfre told the court of her post-"write up" breakdown. Provoked by several factors – including former SVP Fred Muir's resignation – Norton, she said, became extremely upset about the allegedly marked-up charges. She was "hysterical and screaming" about the World Wide Church of God bill, Manfre recalled, and "said I was going to the 'seventh circle of Hell.'" Manfre completely "broke down," she said, by claiming, erroneously, that she had to do what Stodder asked, even though she suggested the overbilling. She cried that she "had a family to support." Later that day Manfre said, Norton calmed down and took her to lunch.
Also testifying on behalf of Stodder was former Fleishman VP Matt Middlebrook, who, prior to joining the firm, was one of LA Mayor Jim Hahn's lead communications advisors. Hands casually crossed, the Vin Diesel-esque Middlebrook was asked if he recalled an October 2003 meeting in which Dowie asked he, Monique Moret, and John Stodder if staffers were overbilling accounts including the LA DWP. Though previous witnesses mentioned his presence at that meeting, Middlebrook claimed to have no recollection of it; he was quickly excused from the stand.
Closing statements are expected to begin (and end) in a marathon session on Thursday. Although an exact wrap-up time has not been determined, Judge Feess told the court to "be prepared for a long day."