Convicted editor-turned-Fleishman-Hillard executive Doug Dowie called no defense witnesses in his trial, but he sat down at the Pacific Dining Car for an exclusive interview with two of his former reporters at the Daily News—Beth Barrett and Rick Orlov. The Dining Car on 6th Street—home of power breakfasts, $55 T-bones with no sides and an inflated reputation—was a favorite Dowie locale when the former managing editor and UPI bureau chief was riding high as a Hahn Administration insider. (Disclosure: I once broke bread with Dowie at the PDC.) He's facing sentence on fifteen counts of wire fraud and conspiracy, but Dowie says it's all a Kafkasesque nightmare—and that he's a fall guy for Fleishman. Excerpts:
"I don't think I'm responsible," he said. "I'm not repentant; I'm not sure what I'd repent for."
"I didn't litter, I hadn't had a ticket....I joined the Marines out of high school because I felt it was my responsibility....It was the most enormous squeeze in the world," Dowie said. "Once they decide who to blame, everyone plays their role ... Someone has to be in the middle; someone has to take the fall. There's a former Marine, an ex-editor who was profiled in Los Angeles Magazine ... there's a good one." [Second disclosure: I wrote the profile]
While Dowie intends a lengthy appeal of the verdict in the case, his failure to accept responsibility could backfire at sentencing with no-nonsense U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and Loyola Law School professor.
"At sentencing, the courts give you a break for accepting responsibility," Levenson said. "You usually get more credit for taking responsibility than blaming others. (Judge) Feess is really a straightforward judge and expects defendants to be so as well."
Dowie has moved from a West Hills home to a Westwood apartment. With regard to city politics and the DWP contract, he says:
Dowie said his relationship to Hahn's aides, specifically former Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, and the pro bono work done on Hahn's behalf were unrelated to the company winning millions of dollars in city contracts. There was no private understanding with anyone in the Mayor's Office with regard to the DWP billings or contract, he said.
He said a "synergy" did develop and that Edwards, and Hahn's Chief of Staff Tim McOsker would call for advice or perspective on city - but not political - matters, and that Fleishman-Hillard did raise funds or contribute to Hahn, as well as his campaign against San Fernando Valley cityhood.
But such a close involvement was the way the City Hall system worked and he had contributed to City Controller Laura Chick's campaign and given free advice to her until their friendship fell apart when her investigation of the $3-million-a-year DWP contract led to a "perfect storm" swirling around Fleishman-Hillard, Dowie said.
At no time, he said, was his firm's free work for Hahn, L.A.'s Best and a citywide book-reading campaign billed to DWP accounts.
Dowie said he believed his high-powered team of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyers provided aggressive cross-examination of witnesses, including addressing issues raised in a Jan. 6, 2003 e-mail string that included him asking Stodder how much they could "pad" the DWP account and whether it could take as much as $30,000 - an e-mail jurors cited as helping seal their decision.
"Will I to my dying day regret using `pad' for `add?' Of course I will," Dowie said, insisting the e-mail was taken out of context out of more than 1 million messages and without regard for all the conversations going on at that time.
"If I'd planned to do something (improper), let alone illegal, I wouldn't ... send it around the world."
In retrospect, he said he wishes he would have launched a full-fledged investigation or called the cops when an account executive, Fred Muir, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, in October 2003 made allegations of fraudulent billings after Dowie upbraided him for taking clients to his new firm.
"Fred Muir's charge was an insult," Dowie said. "We weren't a bunch of guys sitting around a shack doing something wrong."
Muir now heads the Burson-Marsteller office in Los Angeles.
Dowie says he's not scared of prison but says he isn't sure why he would be there.
"I don't know what I'd tell my cellmate ... that I made money to send to St. Louis so they could stab me in the back and then (cooperate) with the U.S. attorney? I'd be the most stupid guy in the chow line."
Overall, he remains proud of the work he did as a journalist, and as a P.R. man; proud of his decisiveness and fearlessness in the face of confrontation, adding no one testified the job he and the company did wasn't "superb."
"I was a star up to the day I wasn't a star at Fleishman-Hillard."
Photo: Los Angeles Times