TALLAHASSEE — State utility regulators and Florida Power & Light’s parent company said Monday they would investigate anonymous allegations that FPL managers broke the law and committed fraud by forcing employees to provide inaccurate and misleading information to regulators and shareholders.
The allegations were made in two letters written by people who claim to be disgruntled FPL employees and sent to FPL Group Chairman Lew Hay, members of the company’s board of directors and the Florida Public Service Commission.
The letters, dated Feb. 3 and Jan. 20, include no specific examples but named certain FPL vice presidents who allegedly forced employees to “manipulate facts, data and information, and present half-truths” to securities regulators and the PSC during the just-completed rate case. The PSC in January granted FPL only $75 million of the $1.3 billion it sought in higher base rates.
Among the claims: Employees that work in departments that handle electricity demand, communications, investor relations, customer service and development were ordered to provide inaccurate and incomplete data to the PSC regarding FPL’s customer usage for the rate case; they were required to manipulate data for the natural gas pipeline case; and they were told to provide shareholders with “incomplete or inaccurate facts’’ on new power plants and renewable energy.
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They also alleged that the company was keeping its expenses “artificially high” so that it could come back to the PSC “later this year or next year” with a second rate-increase request.
The writers signed the letter: “Respectfully submitted, A growing group of FPL employees who seek change management [sic] from our CEO and our Board,” and they said that two of them had spoken to a lawyer and were seeking protection under whistle-blower laws.
Hay responded Monday in an e-mail to all FPL Group employees saying the company had conducted an internal investigation of about 150 employees after the Jan. 20 letter and “identified no evidence supporting any of the generalized claims made by the anonymous letter.”
He said that in light of the more-specific allegations of fraud in the Feb. 3 letter, the company had hired an outside law firm, Carlton Fields, to conduct an internal investigation and determine whether they claims “have any basis in fact.”
“We do not condone the conduct alleged in the anonymous letters, but we cannot address unsupported and unsubstantiated claims,” Hay wrote. He said that FPL officials would not “take negative action against anyone who honestly and forthrightly raised legitimate concerns.”
The employees interviewed were required to sign a confidentiality agreement in which they promised not to speak to anyone about the nature of the investigation or the questions they were asked.
In his e-mail, Hay linked to an internal Web site that posted the Feb. 3 letter, but blacked out that names of the three FPL managers who were the target of the allegations —
Vice President of Development Eric Silagy, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Wade Litchfield and Vice President of Marketing and Communication Tim Fitzpatrick. The PSC posted the letters in their entirety on its own Web site.
PSC Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano said the PSC had received the letters Monday and would “look into them.”
“It is important to remember they are anonymous,” she said. “Sometimes anonymous letters may be written for vindictive purposes. These letters seem to have a lot of detailed information, and the allegations are very serious. The PSC will try to find out if they are employees and, if they are, if they can be offered immunity.”
She said the PSC would ask Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to help decide whether immunity can be offered to any FPL employees who come forward.
To prove that they were true FPL employees, the writers said they attended the company’s annual meeting Feb. 1 and noted that Hay was sitting at Table 1 with the director of corporate security, David Noznesky.
They said that because they believe they are being watched and do not trust management to refrain from retribution, “no one is going to risk their careers to speak up publicly, or identify themselves.”
They said they believe that everyone is being monitored.
Hay vowed that there would be no retribution, and urged employees who have “evidence of an FPL Group company providing false or misleading information” to contact the Carlton Fields law firm or the company’s internal ethics hot line.