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SoCal Gas Fined $3.5 Million

September 8, 2000

MONTEBELLO, Calif. (AP) _ Southern California Gas Co. was fined $3.5 million for allegedly forcing about 500 landowners to sell mineral rights at unfair prices and lying about it to regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission fined the giant utility Thursday as part of a settlement allowing the property owners to undo the gas company deals.

The settlement was approved unanimously by the five PUC commissioners after they received assurances that the $3.5 million fine would be paid by shareholders of corporate parent Sempra Energy, not ratepayers.

The fine, assessed for alleged misrepresentations to the utilities commission rather than to the landowners, will go to the state fund, not to the property holders.

Critics of the settlement said it robs landowners of their chance at a public hearing and provides paltry punishment for the Los Angeles utility.

Southern California Gas, which admitted no wrongdoing, must also develop an ethics course for its employees and those of other utilities.

Utility spokesman Lee Stewart said the agreement will avoid protracted litigation with the state.

Shares of San Diego-based Sempra were up 18.8 cents to close at $19.69 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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