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Alleged power plant deal could have made politicians wealthy, authorities say

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Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003 10:00 pm

Court papers made available this week reveal the most thorough accounts so far of an alleged power plant deal that, according to authorities, could have made several local politicians rich.

A 34-page FBI search warrant affidavit catalogues several alleged e-mail messages, phone calls and clandestine meetings in 2000 and 2001 where San Joaquin County leaders and lobbyists reportedly mapped out a plan to squash one power plant bid, in favor of another from a competing company. The deal, according to federal authorities, would have netted the men a $2 million payoff.

This allegation was made public months ago and brought forth three arrests, the last of which was two months ago. But through the papers, the FBI alleges for the first time that N. Allen Sawyer, a state official, claimed to be acting on Gov. Gray Davis' behalf when he allegedly pushed for a power plant at the Port of Stockton to be built by Sunlaw Energy Corp. The San Jose-based Calpine had also bid on the project.

The papers also contain, for the first time, reports that San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn attended secret meetings and made phone calls to a state energy agency regarding the deal - a deal he has denied being involved with.

Dunn's attorney says the affidavit is old news - simply a rehashing of earlier allegations.

"The sheriff was voluntarily interviewed more than a year ago by investigators and he cooperated fully, as he's indicated in the past," said Orange County-based lawyer Michael Capizzi.

"He is still a potential witness in the case and doesn't want to infringe on any of the parties' right to a fair trial by commenting any further publicly." Dunn, though investigated extensively by federal authorities, has not been arrested or charged in the case.

Neither has Sawyer, though authorities continue to publicly link him to the far-reaching corruption probe. Agents searched his computer hard drive this summer, and allege he used his state government e-mail address to communicate with others about the purported energy agreement. That search - coupled with another - is the subject of the July search warrant affidavit.

Lobbyist Monte McFall, ex-county Supervisor Lynn Bedford and his former aide J. Tyler Reves face charges related to the alleged energy deal and are awaiting a trial that is supposed to start in October. McFall has been under house arrest for the last eight months, and Bedford and Reves have been free on their own recognizance.

All three say they are innocent, and maintain they will be cleared of any wrongdoing. McFall has said publicly that if authorities were to sit down in a room with involved parties to talk the matter out, they would "see that there have been no crimes committed here."

In McFall's case, several of the charges deal with alleged extortion that took place during his tenure on a small water board. But many of the counts for all three men center on the alleged energy agreement.

According to the affidavit, Sawyer, Dunn and McFall met with Sunlaw officials and with local politicians - many times at a cafe at the Stockton Metropolitan Airport - to discuss squeezing Calpine out of the port so Sunlaw could build there. McFall allegedly threatened Calpine officials, telling them he would cause bad publicity for a second Calpine plant already proposed for an Alameda County site if the company did not back out of the port site.

In a phone interview Tuesday, McFall said that's not the way it went, though he declined to give more details until he can explain publicly at the trial.

Federal authorities allege that after one of the supposed meetings, Dunn called the California Energy Commission asking about Calpine's use of ammonia at its plants. The sheriff also testified in front of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, which included Lynn Bedford, about his opposition to Calpine's Alameda County plant, the East Altamont Energy Center. The energy commission is expected to vote on a possible license for that plant today.

His public complaint was that the sheriff's department would not be able to respond to emergencies involving ammonia spills - and companies other than Calpine, he said, did not use ammonia.

The board then approved a resolution in opposition to the center, though it does not sit within the board's jurisdiction. At one point, one Calpine official told federal authorities he felt he'd been "shaken down." The affidavit also claims Reves, the county aide, approached former Ripon Mayor Don Moyer. Moyer was mayor in 2001, when the energy crisis prompted power companies to find locations across the state where they could build new plants.

Authorities say Reves asked Moyer if he would be interested in Sunlaw building a plant in Ripon. At a later meeting, according to the affidavit, McFall asked Moyer whether he wanted money out of the deal - $50,000 or $100,000.

It further states Moyer replied that $50,000 could go toward two new police officer positions for the city, but the mayor wasn't sure what McFall meant or where the money would come from.

McFall said Tuesday he believes the authorities have twisted Moyer's comments.

"I have a high degree of confidence in the integrity of Mr. Moyer," McFall said.

"And he and I both know that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney will twist any comment so that it suits their purpose. It doesn't make sense the way they have it worded," he said, referring to the allegations about promises of money.

"We're friends," he added. "This is a good man." At the later meeting, Sawyer introduced himself not as a consultant working with Sunlaw, but as executive director of the Office of Criminal Justice Planning. And according to the affidavit, Moyer believed Sawyer was there on behalf of the governor.

Port commissioners - those ultimately in charge of decisions over plants at the port - decided on Calpine.

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