FERC has entered into a protective order with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California to obtain access to approximately 161 audiotapes of telephone conversations between Enron Corp. energy traders and other parties.

Armed with search warrants, federal authorities seized audiotapes in October 2002 in Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Houston, TX; and Rutherford, NJ, as part of the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation into the practices used by Enron and its executives to manipulate the California energy market in 2000-2001. Under the stipulation and protective order that was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Aug. 13, the Commission was given access to the audiotapes if it agreed to meet certain conditions.

For starters, “FERC shall not disclose the tapes themselves or any information about the contents of the tapes to any persons other than FERC trial staff without the prior approval of the United States Attorney’s Office for the North District of California and the FBI,” according to the court order. In addition, FERC has agreed to pay about $800,000 to have the audiotapes converted to a useable, audible format. It would cost an additional $12.6 million to transcribe all 161 audiotapes that are the target of the order, which contain 52,000 hours of conversations, according to FERC.

FERC staff also is reviewing 52 DVDs (2,694 hours) of taped conversations that the Snohomish Public Utility District in Washington State obtained from federal authorities, and later submitted to the Commission.

FERC “agrees that the tapes that it is receiving pursuant to this protective order shall remain in the custody of the FBI, and that if FERC receives any requests for disclosure of the tapes or information contained on the tapes, it will notify the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and the FBI immediately,” the order said.

After concluding the investigation, FERC either “will return or destroy its copies of the tapes” if it is asked to do so.

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