Ethics Unit Faults Miller Aide for Action on Family Firm

Times Staff Writer

The federal Office of Government Ethics has faulted Joseph R. Wright Jr., deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, for intervening in a government case involving possible penalties against a family firm, an OMB official said Friday.

OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale Jr. said that Budget Director James C. Miller III is expected to rule soon on whether any action should be taken in the year-old case.

Phone Call at Issue

Dale said that Miller had received a letter in March from David Martin, director of the ethics office, recommending an appropriate but unspecified administrative response to findings that Wright had telephoned an Energy Department official in September, 1982, concerning settlement of $16 million in penalties levied against Anchor Gasoline Corp. of Tulsa, Okla., for allegedly violating federal price controls on petroleum products that were in effect from 1973 to 1981.

Wright, chairman of President Reagan's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, owns a $250,000 interest in the Tulsa oil firm, which was then headed by his father, who has since died. Federal ethics regulations prohibit government officials from acting on behalf of their own financial interests.

Miller Reviewing Record

Dale said that Miller will review the voluminous record in the case over the weekend and intends to announce a decision next week in the case, which has been the subject of three federal investigations since it surfaced a year ago.

In the first inquiry, the FBI found no violation of law. In the second, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee conducted three public hearings and found no serious violations. The third, by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, resulted in one hearing but no final report.

Wright's attorney, James Hamilton, confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that Martin's letter criticized his client for giving the appearance of using his office for private gain and for representing a private company before a government agency, "albeit unknowingly." Such representation is forbidden under government ethics regulations, which carry no criminal penalties.

However, Hamilton said he was in "vigorous disagreement" with specific parts of Martin's letter. He refused to detail them but said he had written a response that is part of the file under study by Miller.

Wright, in sworn testimony last year before the Senate committee, said that his controversial telephone call to the Energy Department lasted only two minutes, and he denied accusations that he had made the call in an attempt to stall the government's case against the Anchor company.

Arranged Meeting

Wright testified that he had arranged for a meeting between an Energy Department regulator and Anchor executives, but he and department officials denied that the meeting led to an extended postponement of a settlement.

The department originally had sought $7.6 million for alleged overcharges by Anchor Corp., together with an $8.5-million claim for interest. No settlement has yet been reached.

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