Utility's PR Chief Quits After Political Scandal

From United Press International

Gulf Power's public relations director has become the third top official to leave the utility in recent weeks, saying the series of crises involving the utility has been a "nightmare."

Charles Lambert, who has worked for Gulf Power for 26 years, resigned Nov. 2, only days after Gulf Power pleaded guilty to charges in connection with a federal probe of the utility.

Gulf Power pleaded guilty to two federal charges of illegal campaign contributions and tax evasion. It also paid a $500,000 fine.

In entering its plea, the utility blamed former Gulf Power Senior Vice President Jacob (Jake) Horton, who died April 10 in a mysterious airplane crash. Federal officials are trying to determine if it was an accident or sabotage.

Lambert said the federal grand jury investigation took a heavy toll on him.

"It seems like we have moved from one crisis to another," Lambert told the Pensacola News Journal. "It's been nothing short of a nightmare. It's time for me to step aside and get along with another phase of my life."

Lambert wrote a letter to Gulf Power's 1,600 employees saying he had decided to retire because "there is nothing more important to me than to ensure that this organization continues to grow and serve the public and maintain the community trust that it deserves."

Two other top Gulf Power officials have also stepped down. Ray Yarbrough, director of appliance sales and service, has retired and Doug Knowles, the corporate advertising supervisor, has resigned.

U.S. Attorney Robert Barr said in a written statement that Yarbrough and Knowles helped Horton in his alleged schemes, through which vendors contributed to politicians and community organizations and submitted phony invoices for reimbursement.

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