SEC begins new probe into Sempra Energy over bribery allegations

SAN DIEGO - A federal probe has been launched into Sempra Energy's dealings with foreigners, Team 10 learned.

Robert Brewer, who is running to become the next San Diego County district attorney, was involved in the initial investigation, but not for the government.

In 2011, Brewer worked for the Jones Day law firm -- one of two law firms hired by Sempra Energy amid allegations the company bribed Mexican officials in connection with a liquefied natural gas plant north of Ensenada.

"Sempra had its agenda and had friends to carry out its agenda," fired Sempra executive Rudy Michelon told Team 10 in a 2010 interview.

Michelon's interview with Team 10 came as the FBI launched an informal probe. Informal probes may lead into formal inquiries, which would include subpoena power.

Several months later, the probe was done, with no charges filed.

Team 10 investigator Michael Chen asked, "How would you characterize the thoroughness of the investigation?"

"It was superficial at best. At its worst, I hesitate to describe it," said Gary Aguirre, an attorney and former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney.

Aguirre filed a Freedom of Information Act request and won a two-year court battle to get more than 3,000 FBI case files on the probe.

He said the files show the government didn't do any independent investigation, instead using a practice becoming more common -- allowing big companies to proactively look at accusations.

"In effect, Sempra convinced the government to allow it to investigate itself," said Aguirre.

He said the files show how Sempra's attorneys, including Brewer, convinced federal investigators that the allegations had no merit by blaming it on a "disgruntled ex-employee."

Aguirre now represents Michelon in a whistleblower complaint, and he said internal memos and other legal cases have revealed new evidence.

Aguirre said a new, informal SEC probe has begun.

Some September emails show the SEC setting up an interview with Michelon that took place soon after.

In a separate civil lawsuit, Michelon settled with Sempra Energy for an undisclosed sum.

Team 10 reached out to Brewer, who declined an interview, saying, "All comments about the case come from Sempra."

In a statement, Sempra said:

"The allegations … were false. The company cooperated fully with the government, providing documents and making employees available for interviews. The U.S. Dept. of Justice and the San Diego U.S. Attorney's Office notified the company in 2011 that they had concluded their investigation and did not intend to take any further action.  We have no further comment on this matter."

A Department of Justice spokesperson declined comment.

The Sempra plant in Mexico also involves a land dispute and Mexican billionaire Susumo Azano, who is now accused of trying to influence politicians, including County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, with campaign money.

Dumania denies the allegations.

In a statement, Brewer's communications director said:

"Whoever it was that pointed federal investigators in the direction of Susumo Azano, that person should be commended and congratulated, given everything we've learned about Azano in the past couple months."

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