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EXCLUSIVE: Twice Fired DWP Exec Raman Raj Claims Disability, Getting Full $264,000 Salary Six Months Later

It started a little over a
month ago with a tip that came from inside the Department of Water and Power:
Raman Raj is still on DWP payroll.

It was hard to believe.
Raj was summarily fired as chief operating officer in February by the new
General Manager Ron Nichols and escorted from the DWP headquarters. How could they still be paying him $22,075.38 a
month, already amounting to nearly half his $264.904.56 annual salary?  

It was unthinkable.

After all, here was a guy
who had been fired once before by the DWP. That was a decade ago after he was
blamed for a costly series of lawsuits involving harassment, discrimination and
retaliation. An investigation into what had gone wrong found Raj had given Brian D’Arcy, the powerful IBEW union boss “too
much influence in the management” of the utility and shielded union
employees from disciplinary action. Raj could not be trusted to “act in
the department’s interest,” if it conflicted with his own…

Yet, Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa ordered Raj rehired in 2007 in the No. 2 job and put him in charge
of day-to-day operations under inexperienced General Manager David Nahai, a
lawyer with expertise in environmental issues who had been DWP Commission
President.

Much despised
by those who worked for him, Raj – backed by D’Arcy who for years has virtually
run the DWP – clashed with Nahai to the point the mayor hired a management
psychologist to intervene and make an oral report to him. A short time later,
Nahai was forced out and David Freeman, who as DWP GM in 1999 had originally
hired Raj, was put in charge of the utility once again.

In the tortured history of
the DWP over the last 13 years, these three conspiratorial figures – D’Arcy,
Freeman and Raj – stand out for the failure of their leadership, their failure
to achieve the goals of cleaner energy and water and for the waste of the
public’s money.

It has taken a while to
find out what Raj’s status is but late Friday afternoon, chief spokesman Joseph
Ramallo emailed:

“In response to your
question regarding whether Raman Raj is on disability, please be advised that
he is.”

How is it possible that a
guy earning roughly $1,000 a day going to work in a powerful position could
suddenly develop a disability that could be paying his full salary even six
months after he was fired, even two years from now?

“Raj’s
situation is a widespread practice of waste and abuse of taxpayers
money,” said Nick Patsaouras, who served as president of the DWP
Commission until quitting in October 2008 in protest over what was going on.

“I have
witnessed settlements paid to dishonest, incompetent, fired employees because
of carelessness, incompetence, lack of documentation and fortitude on the
part of management. Unfortunately all this waste and abuse occurs in ‘closed
door sessions’ out of the reach of the press and the public. 

“I hope
the Rate Payer Advocate’s office in evaluating rate increases will shine the
light on this malpractice among others.”

Nichols, who declined
comment citing this as a personnel matter, sent employees this terse
announcement: about Raj’s being fired back on Feb. 4.

“Raman Raj, our Chief Operating Officer, is
moving on f
rom the Department to the privatsector.

“Pleasjoime in wishing Raman
well in the next stagof
his career. Effective
today, any pending
matters that would have required his attention should be forwarded to thofficof the GeneraManager.”

Just as he did a
decade ago, Raj – an “at will” employee who could have been fired
without cause and without severance – threatened to sue. It worked then and got
him a settlement through a separation agreement. And it worked again this time.

On March 24, fully seven weeks being relieving Raj of duty and dismissing him, Nichols signed off on a “Separation Agreement and Release of Claims” (Raj Separation-1.pdf) that was reached
solelin order to clarify‘ and resolve any issues or disputesthat may exist between them arising out of-the employment rel
ationship and/or its
termination.”


It allowed Raj to continue on the payroll using his
accrued vacation time for another seven weeks.

And it gave Raj until his
termination date of May 13 to apply for disability under the Employee
Retirement Plan.

He did and he got it -
though the plan administrator Sangeeta Bhatia has yet to make it clear what the
nature of his post-dismissal disability is, how much Raj is being paid or for
how long. In a letter – the DWP refuses normally to respond to California
Public Records Act inquiries by email – she said details will be delayed
because unspecified “unusual circumstances” exist.

Ramallo in an email had
the courtesy to explain the disability options available to Raj.

“Disability benefits
are provided for in Section V of the Plan.  The basic benefits provided
are Temporary Disability (TD), Extended TD, and Permanent Total Disability
(PTD).  To be eligible for these benefits, an employee must be a “Full”
member of the Plan which means he/she completed 26 weeks of continuous service.
 At that time, the member begins to contribute to the Disability Fund and
becomes eligible to receive them one day later.

“In addition to being
a Full member of the Plan, the member must also demonstrate that the disability
itself began while the member was still contributing to the Plan.

Generally, the percentage of salary received for Temporary Disability
benefits is defined in the Plan document and depends on the length of
continuous service at the time the disability began.  For example, the
first two weeks at 100%. next 4 weeks at, 85%, next 2 weeks at 60% next 26
weeks at 50%, next 18 weeks at 40% etc.

“However, salaried managers who are on disability and whose disability
status are reviewed and continuously verified are eligible to receive, for up
to two years, payments equal to their regular salary.”

“When a claim for
Disability benefits is received by the Disability Plan, staff verifies
employment status.  Subsequently, in accordance with Plan provisions, the
disability claim is submitted to the Medical Director for review.  The
Medical Director makes a determination as to whether there is sufficient
documentation to qualify for Temporary Disability benefits.  The Medical
Director continues to review medical records as necessary to determine
qualification for benefits.

Clearly as a salaried
manager, Raj is eligible for two years of salary worth nearly $530,000 over the
next two years if his disability status continues to be verified.

He would have been in an
even more enviable situation if the deal the DWP Board approved after he
rejoined the utility had been finalized in August 2008 – a time when rate hikes
of up to 25 percent were being approved and the mayor was increasing payments from
the power fund to the city general fund from 5 to 8 percent, pushing it past
the $250 million mark on top of the 10 percent utility tax.

Raj
was given an extra $152,000 toward his pension which would have allowed him to
buy significantly more credit towards his retirement payment than he has earned
with his five years of service. Then City Controller Laura Chick challenged the
board decision and the next day Raj backed down on the pension payment demand

Three months before the
pension flap, Raj had become the target of serious conflict of interest charges
over possible steering $5 million in contracts to firms that had retained him
prior to his return to the DWP.

Within the DWP, rumors about Raj’s status have been percolating ever since his farewell email (Raj-Farewell.pdfwas sent
to employees in June, months after he was out of the building.


The farewell message was undated, part of
his settlement agreement — and it was unctuous, claiming credit for others
achievements and warmly thanking the staff that largely disliked him. He referred to his “mixed emotions” about
leaving the DWP and his pride in the achievements they made
“together.”

“Althis we accomplished in times of
unprecedented change and undue external pressures. The underlying elements that
made all this happen was strong teamwork cutting across s
ilos and a focus omanaging change effectively,” he said.Inside the DWP, it
was seen as leaving the door open to come back for a third try.

It was an inside joke within DWP that Raj was actually
running the DWP while David Nahai, David Freeman, and Austin Beutner were
General Manager/figureheads,” said one manager who has tracked what is going
on.

“It seems extremely
dubious from my point of view that in our new environment of ‘transparency’ we
are still paying Raman Raj disability.  It seems like his influence is
still looming.  It seems like in light of his LATE, undated farewell letter
he is leaving the option to return, AGAIN. 

“It seems like if Ron
Nichols gets terminated for not getting another rate increase, Raj may return
to fill the vacuum.  We are all rooting for Nichols, he is a decent
guy.”

 

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48 Responses to EXCLUSIVE: Twice Fired DWP Exec Raman Raj Claims Disability, Getting Full $264,000 Salary Six Months Later

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for reporting. This is disgusting and a reminder why public has no faith in city hall. It’s just amazing. And where was LAT or DN with this story?

  2. This is a disgrace, given that Raman Raj lied to the City Council during the ECAF Fiasco.
    And this is an insult to all Ratepayers.
    Unfortunately, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg.
    No wonder why the Garcetti led City Council is trying to emasculate the Ratepayers Advocate.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This situation is no different from the thousands of LAFD & LAPD personnel who rip-off the system by taking disability before they retire.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Consumers HATE LADWP for a host of reasons.

  5. James McCuen says:

    Raj should have never been rehired in the first place. When he was picked up for a second time, a conflict of interest issue was brought up because Raj had connections to a company that was going to get a contract with DWP.
    This is just one of many issues that should trigger a full Federal corruption probe of the Mayor and members of the City Council dating back to 2001.

  6. James McCuen says:

    The investigation that should be triggered would go beyond the current Mayor who became Mayor in 2005 and would include the City Council including those in office since 2001.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This case is screaming for legal action against
    the DWP and the mayor and city council. What
    an abominable travesty against the people of Los
    Angeles.

  8. Pat says:

    Trutanich came into office as a proactive City Attorney taking cases to court.
    This would have been a classic case to NOT settle with Raj and instead challenge him in court and get a very aggressive investigative undercover team to “catch” Raj in position of being very active or seeking consulting or similar work.
    But it seems like Trutanich goes after the small fry and leaves the Managers and Executives alone.
    And the working class suffer.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Trutanich has sold out. It`s survival time now. He`ll be one termer because of Feuer, that is why he is looking the DA race. He kissed AEG`s ass at the Sherman Oaks HOA last week. Tough guy. My ass.

  10. Pat says:

    Trutanich has set up a double-standard. Screw the working and middle class and appeal to the elite.
    He sees or thinks he see strong support in Sherman Oaks. But will his office harass anyone over code enforcement issue among neighborhoods of supports like Sherman Oaks?
    I think that we know the answer.

  11. Anonymous says:

    His ACE program will screw the low-income people while he panders to the rich and powerful.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Yellow journalism and knee-jerk comments. DWP could not pay for disability benefits unless Raj had not been examined by doctors who documented his disability. The nature of that disability cannot be publicly disclosed due to PRIVACY laws. If DWP did disclose it, then Raj could sue for $$$.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Trutanich’s office has been significantly reduced in size in an effort by the City Council to reduce his effectiveness in going after the scofflaws. I can’t speak to whether he has sold out (or to whom) but he brought in a very capable and smart team with many who do care and are making a positive difference. Just as it is somewhat unrealistic to expect President Obama to fix all that ails the US in a term (especially after the Bush administration’s national and international blunders), it is unrealistic to expect any City Attorney to reign in the abuses at DWP and throughout the City where a serious culture shift is needed (in addition to a de-throning of D’Arcy at DWP and a change in how the City is governed. So long as each Councilmember can govern in their district unchallenged (and is allowed to do so so that no one will mess in their peer’s district), the best interests of the City as a whole will be lost. Even when there is recognition of bad projects or problems in other districts, councilmembers are very reticent to act because they fear that if they do so, their fellow councilmember will feel free to challenge something that they want in their own district at a later time. (Not all councilmembers are the vengeful type, but one must understand this dynamic to know why certain things happen in this City (and why certain other things don’t). But we are digressing. The issue at hand is abuse of disability, which is especially galling when: a) the city is broke, b) people who want to work can’t get a job c) people with real disabilities often cannot get it d) city staff are being laid off and furloughed e) he never should have been rehired in the first place.
    The big question is whether the citizens of LA who have now learned of this will have the stick-to-it-ness to go to Council meetings and in the public comment period DEMAND that there be an investigation into this whole situation and how it came to be. Someone from the City or the insurance carrier ought to be interviewing Raj’s neighbors to see how disabled he is and then keep tabs on him now and again to determine his fitness to work. In fact, I’d bet there are plenty of LA taxpayers who would volunteer for such a job… camera in hand! Any takers?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’ll start with the LAFD and LAPD people most of whom take their loot to other cities.

  15. Anonymous says:

    If Ron Nichols gets terminated, that would be a mistake. He’s actually the best GM DWP has had for a while, mostly because he’s not a politician, has a background based in utility work, and he listens.
    But this is probably what’s going to happen. If Nichols doesn’t get a rate increase, he’ll be fired by Villaragoisa. If he does get a rate increase, there will be a public backlash and he’ll become the fall guy. So either way he’s out the door. Then the next mayor comes in and appoints one of his underqualified friends to the position, who ends up being ten times worse. There’s LA politics for you.

  16. Anonymous says:

    “unqualified” If by that you mean he is neither
    a politician nor a union member, he is my kind
    of candidate. An ordinary guy or gal with fair
    play and budget on his mind. Wow!!!!
    Where is he?

  17. Ms. Anonymous says:

    There has to be one in every crowd like 08:41.
    What makes you so sure Raj has a valid disability claim? His job certainly didn’t entail any heavy lifting, unless you count champagn glasses at swank in-crowd cocktail parties.
    And…what makes you so sure that the doctor who approved his disability compensation isn’t an old booze hound who no longer has a practice, but has a cushy job with a big pension working for the DWP or a disability board or some other crooked outfit?
    Want to venture a guess that Raj’s claiming psychological damage due to being fired twice?
    I think we all should get jobs with the DWP. They have it pretty damn good over there!

  18. Anonymous says:

    So much angst over one individual even as the city is being ripped-off by the Mayor, City Council, AEG and other developers.

  19. mtrmann says:

    Thank you for your reporting this travesty.
    Don’t expect this to be reported at the LAT, they are just as corrupt as the petty politicians and the unions that they support. This is no surprise to the DWP’s non-management employees, just par for the course.

  20. anonymous says:

    Raj was and is a despicable person. Because he is not a department head or commissioner, his antics typically flew under the radar. One of the reasons I retired 3 years ago was because he returned to DWP. His appointment of unqualified subordinates will continue to hinder DWP for years to come.

  21. anonymous says:

    Raj was and is a despicable person. Because he is not a department head or commissioner, his antics typically flew under the radar. One of the reasons I retired 3 years ago was because he returned to DWP. His appointment of unqualified subordinates will continue to hinder DWP for years to come.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Similar story in all city departments.

  23. Anonymous says:

    10:56, where’s your proof that the doctor is a booze hound?

  24. Anonymous says:

    “Similar story in all city departments.”
    Indeed. Here’s one:
    As a park ranger officer for LA City, Joe Tafoya was seriously injured in an accident on the job. He was put on full disability – no work, all pay – for a number of years.
    Just a few years later, in exchange for internal loyalty to the Union sandbagging the park rangers in a consolidation, Joe Tafoya was hired as a Sgt. in the General Services Police along with a bunch of other sandbaggers.
    General Services is also City of LA.
    He was hired as an armed peace officer.
    At elevated pay.
    Essentially the same job as a park ranger since that is what was used to qualify him for the Gen Services police job.
    Guess ‘full disability’ has some other meaning than the legal one in LA City. It must.

  25. Anonymous says:

    One of six Fullerton cops placed on paid leave following a confrontation that left a 37-year-old homeless man dead in the street is a former LAPD officer who lost use of one eye in a 1990s shooting that put him on that department’s permanent disabled list.
    Those facts — circulated by an anonymous caller to KFI AM 640′s John & Ken — were confirmed according to a Tuesday night report by Fox 11 News’ Chris Blatchford.
    The former LAPD badge was ID’s as …… Jay Cicinelli. He was shot six times in an on-duty attack in South Los Angeles in 1996. The former Marine was said to have been only two weeks into his first job as a cop when that happened. The confrontation took his left eye, gave him a permanent stay-home pass, and put a disability check from the city in his mailbox.

  26. Anonymous says:

    1:41 p.m., such stories are a dime a dozen. The quicker we accept the fact that both LAFD and LAPD besides gobbling up 70% of the city budget are also central to disabilty abuse, the quicker we’ll restore the city to financial health.

  27. DWPvet says:

    As a DWP employee, I can attest that Raj was and is a despicable human being. As dirty as the day is long.
    However, his memory will live on with the corrupt ones he promoted to carry on his legacy of filth.
    Watch for future stories about John Chen. A Raman Raj appointee, several levels beyond his own competence. A real cretin.

  28. Anonymous says:

    4:20 p.m., you mean the Mayor’s legacy of filth.

  29. This is as bad as the Grim Sleeper still receiving is city disability retirement benefit worth a million dollars in present value. Had he been covered under SSA disability, the checks would have stopped upon incarceration.

  30. Wayne from Encino says:

    When the NFL tells L.A. to go Fuck Off and not deliver it a football team, then AEG will pack its bags and head for greener pastures. The City then will have to disband the LAFD and LAPD for cost reasons and contract those services with L.A. County. Carmen Gaga Dumbtanich knows the L.A. City Gravytrain has left the station, so he wants in on the D.A’s job.
    The NFL Commish can’t place ANOTHER team in California with all this going on. They’ll wait for a turnover of non-criminal defendants and non-Maoists to emerge FIRST as elected officials, then they’ll want a number of EXEMPTIONS from environnmental, union, and wage laws.
    DUMBTANICH was, for me, THE LAST GASP of hope of staying in L.A. No one can stop the destruction of L.A. City now. He was too old, too weak, too vain, and too scared to reign in the Herd over there in Spring St. It’s a terrible responsibility to ask one Man to do that, but I thought L.A. City deserved to be salvaged, not futher raped.
    Now, It’s simply everyone for themselves. The lucky ones will get out of L.A. ASAP.
    Raman Raj would like to thank his “real heroes” for allowing his Golden Parachute: L.A. Times, Daily News, Carmen “gaga” Dumbtanich, AEG, DWP, and lets not forget some AWOL talk show hosts who have gone into hiding: Doug McIntyre, John and Ken, and Kevin James. Kevin is the most laughable cutting the show down to 1 hour, rerunning the other 2 hours, and spending 1/2 of the live hour TALKING ABOUT GOD DAMN COLLEGE FOOTBALL! Now you know how Rome fell!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Response to 10:56:
    8:41 here again. I am not speculating, like you are — I KNOW. The disability is not psychological — it is physical, and absolutely protected by privacy laws.

  32. Nate says:

    To August 23, 2011 9:22 AM:
    No excuses for Trutanich, he has made a 180 turn in his position irregardless of staffing. The point that another reader made about Trutanich kissing up to Leiweke in Sherman Oaks.
    And what has Trutanich and his team really become? – Criminal defense lawyers for the LA City Council and City Managers.
    Trutanich’s able team has been shutting down public comments in City Council and even Committees. And when Conflicts of Interest issues come up such as that with Jan Perry, Trutanich moves much more aggressively to protect her and then turns around and screws the public.
    Unless you are affluent and have money, Trutanich is no interested in you.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Trutanich is a major disappointment and should not be rewarded with a DA.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE THE RAJ

  35. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE THE RAJ…..It makes me laugh to read all the flamer comments from the DWP haters. They can’t stand DWP or its employees & the article just makes ‘em flame so purty.

  36. DWPvet says:

    I LOVE THE RAJ… apparently you didn’t notice the DWP employees who posted that hate the RAJ.
    Although it is true that some can’t stand DWP or its employees… but in this case even the employees don’t like or trust him.
    Sometimes it’s just the RAJ that makes ‘em flame so purty.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Have to agree with “DWPvet”. It’s really too bad that Raj didn’t take his hand-picked partner-in-crime, John Chen, with him. What a piece of work!

  38. Anonymous says:

    DWP is not well served by these scandals.
    As a DWP worker, it is offensive since most of us are dedicated workers. DWP is meant to help the citizens of LA prosper.
    I hope the public can distinguish between the abusers and the rest of us…
    But I have my doubts.
    Good stories from DWP seem to get upstaged by bad ones in the press.
    If Nicols is a keeper why should he be shown the door due to politics?
    We’ve gone through too many GMs in the past few years.
    Our competition isn’t concerned with such foolishness at City Hall.

  39. Anonymous says:

    WTF??? Seems we have real haters in the house, To the same poster who keeps saying the same thing enough already. Yes, LAPD and LAFD had guys on disability for years until they started to get hell for it and started cleaning it up. Those numbers have fallen way down in the last decade. I want a number count on the other City Employees inside City Hall on disability. Why didn’t anyone say anything about employees like Jimmy Blackman who got paid leave, Blanca Navarro the Mayor’s gang reduction girl that was arrested for assaulting a police officer on paid leave, Jan Perry’s staffers, Janice Hahn staffer who 1 busted for DUO and the other wrecked city vehicles and nothing happened to them.

  40. Anonymous says:

    “Yes, LAPD and LAFD had guys on disability for years until they started to get hell for it and started cleaning it up. Those numbers have fallen way down in the last decade”. Provide some numbers before you call posters as haters. But mentioning Jimmy Blackman etc, does not qualify as “hatred” on your part? WTF?

  41. Anonymous says:

    DWP has many competent and dedicated workers who actually keep your lights on and clean water in the tap. The fact that you take those things for granted and do not have to wonder if your computer will have the power it needs to send your posts to this site is proof that we are doing our jobs. If you knew the size and complexity of this infrastructure you might appreciate what is actually being accomplished.

  42. Anonymous says:

    “If Nicols is a keeper why should he be shown the door due to politics?”
    He shouldn’t but this is what Riordan’s charter did to LA government. Made every GM expendable. Nichols will get kicked out when the mayor finds it politically advantageous to kick him out, or if Nichols gets on Antonio’s bad side. If you guys really want to fix DWP, you need to fix the charter first.
    And I agree with 4:28. Even though they only have 2/3rd the workforce they had before deregulation, DWP workers are doing a good job. Contrast this with Edison, which has rates that are 30% higher, and still manages to kill entire families.

  43. Anonymous says:

    This is unbelievable and disgusting.

  44. Anonymous says:

    How is this possible? Does this man have no shame? Where is the internal review and policing that should be there for this kind of abuse? Which organization does this?

  45. Anonymous says:

    How is this possible? Does this man have no shame? Where is the internal review and policing that should be there for this kind of abuse? Which organization does this?

  46. Anonymous says:

    4:20pm – Who is John Chen and should we be concerned?

  47. DWPvet says:

    Anonymous on August 25, 2011 11:04 AM
    As I said before–
    … John Chen. A Raman Raj appointee, several levels beyond his own competence. A real cretin.
    So, another Raj-like employee who mistreats people and is a thug.
    Should you be concerned? Only if that is not the type of person you want running a world-class utility.

  48. John Walsh says:

    Rama Raj and Villaraigosa “met cute” many years ago at MTA HQ. Their matchmaker was Alatorre who was an mayoral appointee to the Board. Top Raman hitched his wagon to a rising star. Back then was no different from DWP. Raj was surrounded by “rumors” of sexual harrassment and corruption.

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