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Politics

Ethics Agency Probing California Bullet Train Leaders

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s ethics enforcement agency is investigating several leaders of the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority who took overseas trips paid for by foreign governments seeking contracts to build the proposed $43 billion bullet train system.

The Fair Political Practices Commission said it launched the probe after the Los Angeles Times reported that authority board members took tours of train systems in Europe last year, but didn’t disclose who paid for the trips.

The commission posted on its website letters informing authority chairman Curt Pringle and board members Quentin Kopp, Lynn Schenk, Tom Umberg, as well as former executive director Medhi Morshed, that they were the focus of an inquiry into whether they violated rules limiting the receipt of gifts.

Rail officials have defended the trips as a way to gain valuable information on high-speed rail systems at no cost to state taxpayers.

The authority has said that foreign governments donated the trips to the agency, which then assigned travel to those countries to board members and staff. Because of that, the authority said most board members didn’t have to disclose the travel on annual reports of gifts received.

The authority’s deputy executive director, Jeffrey Barker, said the agency was going back to account for past foreign travel and will be looking into whether the staff complied with state ethics laws.

“We are fully committed to transparency and to correcting the situation,” Barker said Thursday.

He couldn’t say when reports detailing the sources, costs and itineraries of the trips will be released because it would take time to gather the information.

Morshed, who traveled to Spain and Germany, told the Times that any mistakes in accounting for the trips were unintentional. He said limited staff and budget over the years contributed to the problems.

“It is not having enough people to do it,” he said.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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