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Archive for Saturday, August 13, 2005

State treasurer: Wittig, Lake sought influence with KCC

August 13, 2005

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— Kansas Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, testifying as a prosecution rebuttal witness in the federal fraud retrial of two former Westar Energy executives, said they tried to use her to gain influence with state regulators while she was a state senator in 2001.

Jenkins also testified that David Wittig, Westar's former chairman and chief executive officers, also tried to use her sister - the chief counsel and acting chief of staff for then-Gov. Bill Graves - to influence the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities.

Jenkins testified Thursday, after 5 1/2 days of testimony by Douglas Lake, former executive vice president and chief strategy officer.

She said that in the fall of 2001, Lake - who had donated a total of $550 to two of her previous campaigns - called her at home, upset over a KCC decision earlier that year.

In July, the KCC had put a halt to Westar's plans to split its utility operations away from the rest of the company, then merge those operations with Public Service Co. of New Mexico.

Prosecutors say that would have meant millions of dollars in payments for Wittig and Lake. Jenkins testified that Wittig and Westar had also donated to her campaigns.

Jenkins said Lake told her he had asked then-Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, also the state's commerce secretary, to persuade the KCC to "smile favorably" on Westar. She said Lake told her that if that didn't happen, Kansas would lose some of Westar's utility jobs.

When Sherrer declined, Jenkins testified, Lake approached her, and she offered to help if she could.

She said she and her sister, Natalie Haag, were invited to lunch and asked to help influence the KCC.

Jenkins said she told Wittig it would be inappropriate for her to do that, and Haag told Wittig that Graves would not become involved in the issue.

The 40 criminal counts against Wittig, 50, of Topeka, and Lake, 55, of New Canaan, Conn., include conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud. Prosecutors accuse them of trying to loot Kansas' largest electrical utility for their personal gain.

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