In a dramatic escalation of energy crisis rhetoric, California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer this week suggested the chairman of a Houston-based power company should be locked in a prison cell with an amorous, tattooed inmate named Spike.
Lockyer, who is investigating whether energy firms have manipulated prices on the wholesale electricity market, made the comment in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that appeared Tuesday.
"I would love to personally escort [Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth] Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi my name is Spike, honey,' " Lockyer said.
Enron spokesman Mark Palmer called the comment "counterproductive rhetoric" that "does not merit a response."
But other industry representatives denounced the remark as "outrageous," especially because neither Lockyer's office nor any investigative panel has filed charges against Enron or other companies.
"You'd expect that the state's chief legal counsel would file charges first and make public statements second," said Gary Ackerman of the Western Power Trading Forum, an association of energy producers and traders. "We're very disappointed with his choice of words, which don't exactly fit the profile of his office."
In an interview Tuesday, Lockyer said he decided to "ratchet up" the commentary to "put [energy companies] on notice" that "we are not afraid of them and have the will to prosecute."
"What I'm trying to do is let these economic buccaneers understand that if we catch them, they're going to be prosecuted," Lockyer said. "Just because they're multimillionaires and run big corporations, it doesn't provide them with immunity."
The attorney general is investigating whether power company officials tried to maximize profits through illegal manipulation of prices on the wholesale energy market. Several panels, including a state Senate committee and the California Public Utilities Commission, are conducting similar probes.
On Tuesday, Lockyer announced that three power companies have agreed to turn over documents subpoenaed months ago by his investigators. The attorney general went to court to obtain the documents after the companies failed to meet a March 19 deadline to hand them over.
Lockyer said the forthcoming documents would help his office as it sifts through mountains of evidence in search of possible violations of antitrust or unfair business practice laws.
"Evidence is accumulating that certainly infers illegal activity," Lockyer said. "But we need to make sure it's compelling and clear enough that you can convince a jury."
Lockyer said he singled out Enron's chairman because the Houston company is the world's largest energy trader.
At least one observer found Lockyer's comments refreshingly candid. Harry Snyder, a senior advocate of Consumers Union, said, "Let Lockyer be Lockyer."
Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this story.