Kimberly Blough 6:28 p.m., March 9
Feds Let Sempra Investigate Itself
The Washington Post reports today (Jan. 12) that in 2010, when a former employee said Sempra Energy was paying bribes in Mexico, the government did what it often does in white-collar crime cases: it asked the company (in this case Sempra) to investigate itself. The Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to know, among several things, whether a $7 million charitable trust the company financed in Mexico was in fact a slush fund.
Documents show that the FBI thought Sempra may have engaged in criminal activity, according to the Post. So, Sempra's outside counsel was given the investigatory task. The report, of course, exonerated Sempra; the Department of Justice concluded that no further investigation was warranted. The Post can't find anything to indicate the government looked into the matter independently. Federal lawyers "went brain dead" listening to Sempra's outside lawyers, San Diego attorney Gary Aguirre told the Post. Aguirre told me that the Sempra case was "a poster child for outsourcing of [Securities and Exchange Commission] and [Department of Justice] investigations."
A similar case was the SEC's handling of the Peregrine Systems scam. John Moores, former chairman of the company, called in his personal lawyer to quarterback a study of the collapse by the law firm of Latham & Watkins. To no one's surprise, the report exonerated board members. (Some lower executives eventually went to prison.) The SEC then blessed the Latham & Watkins report, and the lawyer who headed the SEC investigation of Peregrine went to work for...you guessed it, Latham & Watkins.