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PUC probe: State searches home of Michael Peevey, former commission boss

State officials reportedly searched the La Canada Flintridge home of former PUC President Michael Peevey

State law enforcement officials reportedly searched the La Canada Flintridge home of former Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey this week and seized computer equipment and smartphones.

Investigators from the California attorney general's office also removed similar gear and other items from the residence of former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. top executive Brian Cherry in the upscale bedroom community of Orinda, east of San Francisco, according to a San Francisco Chronicle story Thursday.

The state conducted a related search at PUC headquarters in San Francisco in November as part of its investigation into allegedly improper communications Peevey and other PUC officials had with PG&E brass since 2009.

Neither Peevey nor Cherry could be reached for comment Thursday.

State prosecutors declined to comment on the searches. Separately, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco has launched a similar investigation.

Hundreds of emails released by PG&E and the commission have shown that Peevey engaged in personal conversations and electronic communications involving the selection of administrative law judges to rule on pending $1.3 billion rate-setting cases, the solicitation of campaign contributions to oppose a statewide ballot measure and financial support for a PUC centennial celebration.

At least one of the exchanges with Cherry took place at Peevey's Sonoma County coast vacation home over a couple bottles of "good Pinot," Cherry reported in a email to his superiors.

Critics, including leaders in the city of San Bruno south of San Francisco, contend that the one-sided conversations showed a bias on the part of Peevey and the commission toward PG&E. The September 2010 explosion of a PG&E natural gas pipeline destroyed a San Bruno residential neighborhood, killing eight people.

PG&E repeatedly has admitted that some of the communications violated PUC policy. The company fired Cherry and two other executives and said it has strengthened its rules about engaging in so-called ex parte contacts.

Ratepayer activists in San Diego County also have complained about emails that show other possibly improper contacts between Peevey and Southern California Edison Co. officials concerning the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant and other matters.

Peevey, 76, recently finished a second six-year term as head of the powerful commission. Gov. Jerry Brown replaced him with Michael Picker, a former staff member in the governor's office.

Picker publicly has vowed not to involve himself in questionable communications with utilities and has asked his colleagues on the five-member commission to create a new code of ethics for commissioners.

The PUC, Picker said, is fully cooperating with federal and state investigators.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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