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— Did San Diego utility giant Sempra Corp. pay $410,000 in bribes to a Mexican company in order to expedite construction of a natural gas pipeline it wanted to build from San Diego to Rosarito? So charges David Crain, an 18-year veteran of Sempra who left the company 5 years ago and has filed a complaint with the state's Public Utility Commission (PUC) alleging the bribery. According to an account in last week's Electricity Daily, Crain claims that Sempra and its previous component companies, SoCal Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric, forked over the bribe money, plus a promise of a $1.4 million bonus, to a "political influence firm" called Aleman Velasco y Asociados. The complaint says that firm was supposed to "eliminate competition for the gas pipeline from Southern California to Baja California," namely Texas-based El Paso Natural Gas, which wanted to build its own pipeline to supply a large electrical generating plant in Rosarito. Clark also alleges that Sempra violated federal money-laundering laws and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Sempra spokesman Michael Clark was quoted by the newsletter as confirming that the money was paid to the Mexican firm but that the company's dealings with Aleman Velasco were "perfectly legal." He claimed that Clark's complaint with the PUC was just a legal tactic in an ongoing wrongful termination suit against Sempra. Once manager of competitive analysis at SoCal Gas, Crain now heads the markets and strategies group at Fluor Corp. in Irvine, the newsletter says.

Q Would Be Proud

A Coronado-based Navy SEAL team is hard at work on a super-secret project to develop a new, high-tech underwater weapons-carrying bag, reports Jane's Defense Weekly. The new device, "designed to provide protection for individual combat weapons during underwater and surf transit operations," according to Jane's, is being tested by "Training Cell and platoon members from SEAL Team Three." Three different types of weapons bags reportedly are being tried out by the SEALs on dives near San Clemente Island. "The weapons bags are sealed with waterproof zippers and equipped with oral inflation tubes to allow the combat swimmer to establish neutral weapon buoyancy.... Different waterproof bag designs reportedly include both a 'shoot-through' bag configured to carry the 5.56mm M4 carbine as well as a larger waterproof bag capable of carrying the 7.62mm M60 machine gun. At least one version, believed to be the M4 carbine model, is also equipped with an integral glove that would allow the operator to fire the weapon without removing it from the protective bag."

Sweating the Small Stuff

A staffer at the Union-Tribune wants to set the record straight. Tom Mallory, identified as the U-T's "weekend/enterprise editor," wrote a letter to Editor & Publisher, pointing out that the U-T had been misidentified in a story about circulation troubles at the country's major daily newspapers, including the U-T. Calling the E&P story "an excellent overview of dropping circulation figures among large daily newspapers," Mallory went on to say, "I wanted to point out, however, that the chart gave the name of our newspaper as the San Diego Union. As you probably know, the San Diego Union and the San Diego Tribune merged into one paper in 1992 and has since been called the San Diego Union-Tribune. We've come a long way since then, steadily improving our content, our product, and our presentation, and we're now a much better paper than we were as two. We'd really appreciate it if all references to our newspaper used the full name, though you can feel free to leave off the period in our masthead."

Small Consolation

Lakeside demolition contractor Patrick Clauss, who has been hired to blow up the historic Mapes Hotel in downtown Reno, has an offer for those historic preservationists who have been fighting to save the 12-story brick building. He will sell bricks and other artifacts from the doomed structure for a buck apiece. The Mapes is on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that failed to convince the Reno City Council to save it. Implosion is set for January 30.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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