The House ethics committee Wednesday began tying up loose ends in its 11-month probe of Speaker Jim Wright by hearing from the first of a group of Texas investors in a gas well that yielded huge profits for Wright.
San Antonio financier Morris Jaffe was the first to go before the panel, entering the hearing room in the Capitol basement with his Washington lawyer, Stanley Brand. Jaffe and four others "stood up" the committee a week ago when two members traveled to San Antonio to interview them."I hope they will cooperate, for the sake of getting this task completed," said Rep. John T. Myers, R-Ind., the panel's senior Republican. Myers said the work of inquiring into the gas well venture was tying up committee staff who otherwise could be preparing for a disciplinary hearing for Wright, expected to come late this month.
The committee is seeking to clear up circumstances under which Wright and his business partner, George Mallick, were brought into the well venture in Sabine Lake near the Texas-Louisiana line, and parlayed an initial cash outlay of $9,120 into a $340,000 profit in less than five months.
In a 23-page defense the investors issued Monday by Brand they argued that the well was a legitimate business venture and not, as ethics committee counsel Richard Phelan argued, a potential funnel for gifts to Wright.
The investors say they still plan to invest more into sinking another well at the site in hopes of freeing millions of dollars worth of gas and petroleum.
Also subpoenaed were Jaffe's son Doug, president of the family's companies; Marlyn Cherry, the Jaffes' bookkeeper; Doug Prestridge, a geologist; and Dave Myers, who supplied the well drilling equipment.
In a related matter, Wright on Tuesday defended his use of the Congressional Record to praise a video program his wife helped develop, but a member of the House ethics committee said the panel might have to look at the incident.
"I don't think there's anything improper about it," Wright told reporters. "I think it's a tempest in a teapot." But Myers said the situation "certainly does raise a question" and could be discussed by the ethics committee.