Official Concedes Appearance Of Conflict Over Family-Owned Oil Company
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A top White House official conceded Wednesday that a phone call he made about the government’s handling of alleged overcharges by an oil he partly owns created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
″I wouldn’t come anywhere near that phone again,″ Deputy White House Budget Director Joseph R. Wright Jr.told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. ″I’ve learned that from this highly unpleasant experience.″
Wright, the final witness in two days of hearings before the committee, vehementy denied that his Sept. 23, 1982, phone call to an Energy Department official was part of an effort to ″fix″ the case, as Democratic senators on the panel charged.
Sen. Thomas Eagleton, D-Mo., who initiated the Senate committee’s inquiry, charged that the phone call to then-Energy Department official Rayburn Hanzlik three years ago was ″a simple garden-variety fix″ that caused a long delay in the government’s bid to get the companies to repay the alleged overcharges.
″What’s wrong is that a high government official sought to use his influence, not to have a case settled, but to have it sent to the morgue,″ Eagleton said.
Wright testified that he made the call at the request of his father, Joseph R. Wright Sr., chairman and a 10 percent owner of Anchor Gasoline Corp. of Tulsa, Okla. The younger Wright has a 3 percent ownership of the company with a value of about $700,000.
Nine days before the call - Sept. 14, 1982 - officials in the Energy Department’s Kansas City regional office formally notified Anchor they were ordering the company to repay $7.4 million in alleged overcharges plus another $8.6 million in interest.
At the same time, officials in the agency’s Washington office were preparing an order seeking another $20 million in alleged overcharges and interest from an Anchor subsidiary, Canal Refining Co. of Church Point, La.
Wright said he did not know about the so-called ″proposed remedial order″ issued by the department against Anchor or the case being prepared against Canal when he called Hanzlik.
He said he made the call after his father had repeatedly complained to him that government officials in the Kansas City office were being unreasonable in negotiating the case and asking if officials in Washington could help.
A week earlier, an attorney for the company had offered to settled that case for $50,000, an amount that the head of the Kansas City office called ″ridiculous.″
″I was not asking for anything except that if he would meet with them (Anchor officials)″ Wright said of his call to Hanzlik. ″And I was up front that it was a family business.″
Hanzlik testified earlier that he told no one else about Wright’s call and that it had no influnce on how the Anchor or Canal cases were subsequently handled.
Both those cases are still unresolved.