Feds Fight Back in San Bruno Explosion Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Federal prosecutors are fighting back after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. asked a judge to strike allegations in an indictment from the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood.
     In a Sept. 5 memorandum, prosecutors say “there is no question” the San Bruno explosion, which happened four years ago Sept. 9, is relevant to the indictment.
     Last week PG&E asked U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to remove references to the pipeline accident from a superseding indictment, particularly, “prejudicial” allegations that implied that criminal conduct caused the explosion.
     The indictment referred to the pipeline accident 11 times, but the grand jury never alleged that any of the felonies caused the explosion, PG&E claimed.
     Prosecutors say PG&E’s motion “simply ignores the law.”
     Numerous courts have upheld the district court’s refusal to strike language that could be prejudicial to the defendant, but contains allegations relevant to the charges, prosecutors say in the memorandum.
     “Allegations should not be struck if they are relevant and material, and PG&E has not come close to satisfying this exacting standard,” prosecutors state.
     PG&E was charged in July with one count of obstructing a federal investigation and 27 counts of violating the Natural Gas Pipeline and Safety Act.
     Prosecutors say that because the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the San Bruno explosion, the event is indeed relevant to the obstruction charge. And in regard to the pipeline act violations: “What better evidence to prove a violation of the Pipeline Safety Act, than the explosion of that very pipeline.”
     PG&E also argued that the $1 billion fine requested by the indictment for victims’ losses is “enormous,” and violates the law.
     “Since the grand jury did not find facts supporting the alleged maximum fine and state those facts in the indictment, the penalty allegations cannot stand and we respectfully ask the Court to strike them as well,” the company said.
     Prosecutors replied that the numbers simply place the company on notice about the amount the government will seek at trial, and the government’s responsibility is to give the essential facts to inform the defendant of the nature of the charges.
     PG&E is due again in court on Sept. 22.

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