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Duke Energy Ethics Scandal: Another Exec Taken Down By Email

A high-ranking executive at Duke Energy resigned this week after hundreds of compromising emails with David Lott Harvey, then chairman of the Indiana Regulatory Commission, were published by the Indianapolis Star. James L. Turner, group executive, president and chief operating officer of Duke's U.S. franchised electric and gas business, was taken out because his moral compass didn't exactly point north. He also forgot the No.1 rule in this modern, tech savvy corporate world: Emails aren't private.

From the Indianapolis Star:

The emails were published last week by The Indianapolis Star and showed that Turner had offered Hardy boat rides, discussed sensitive personnel issues and bantered about sports and luxury cars.

"Would the ethics police have a cow if you and the woman came up some weekend?" Turner wrote on July 2, while riding a boat on Lake Michigan. Hardy wrote back: "Probably -- we might 'be in the area' some afternoon, but I won't be doing this forever."

The content of emails goes beyond the sophomoric example above. Turner and Hardy, who was fired by the Gov. Mitch Daniels in October, also chatted about two former state employees who were hired by Duke Energy. Those two were fired by Duke last month.

How did the Star catch these guys -- a Duke exec and the chairman of the state commission that regulates utilities -- who had exchanged hundreds of messages while the company built its $2.9 billion coal-gasification plant? They filed an open-records request.

Emails have ensnared more than Duke Energy. BNET colleague Jim Edwards has documented a few cases where internal memos and emails have landed pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca and Pfizer in the hot seat. Not every company out there is at risk of falling under state open records laws, like in the case of Duke Energy. But that doesn't mean emails won't become public.

In this case of Duke, the emails didn't just cost Turner his job. Even if it doesn't derail Duke's coal-gasification plant, it could hurt the company's chances of receiving approval from state regulators to increase electricity rates, which will in turn help pay for the new facility.

Photo from Flickr user biscarotte, CC 2.0

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