Combs Says Utilities Deal Under Investigation

Ken Combs told WLOX during the mayoral campaign he had asked for a federal investigation of the 34 million dollar purchase in 1999. The day after the election, Combs revealed that an investigation is already underway and that a retired FBI agent has turned over information to the U.S. Attorney.

Combs will only say that shortly after the city bought the Orange Grove Utilities District, the retired FBI agent began looking into the deal. Combs says the investigation was prompted by the Coast Crime Commission. At that time, Combs was on the commission's board of directors. Combs says the investigation uncovered what he called improper payments to public officials. Combs says "I think it's negligence and maybe even criminal negligence that we bought a pig in a poke in the Orange Grove Utilities System."

Combs says the city's purchase of the utility was a waste of taxpayers' money. Combs won't identify the retired FBI agent who's done some digging into the deal. "He's done a good investigation and it's all been turned over to the U.S. Attorney's office. "They are already analyzing it and getting' ready to go on it," says Combs. The U.S. Attorney's office won't confirm or deny that. Combs says the investigation focused on the sale of the utility. "The investigation centered on improper payments by the seller to public officials and it's a matter of sworn testimony that some of that did take place."

Combs says as soon as he takes office on July 2, he will contact the U.S. Attorney to discuss the investigation. "We think too much was paid for the system and our goal is to get it into a federal court and let a judge decide what the true value of it is and hopefully get some of the money back that the taxpayers' have paid for the system.

The sworn testimony Combs refers to is from depositions taken in a defamation suit filed by Steve and Kathy Day, the utility's former owners. The Days' filed suit against Combs, Council member Kim Savant and the Sun Herald Newspaper after the paper did a series of stories on the city's purchase.

Kathy Day could not comment on this story on the advice of her attorney.

Coast Crime Commission Director Bob Waterbury wouldn't comment either.