Grassley seeks information on SEC watchdog turmoil

Wed May 16, 2012 5:26pm EDT

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(Reuters) - U.S. Senator Charles Grassley is pressing the Securities and Exchange Commission for more information about the decision to place on administrative leave the lead investigator in the agency's inspector general's office.

David Weber, who joined the SEC a few months ago as the new assistant inspector general for investigations, was placed on leave last week after he talked openly about wanting to carry a concealed firearm at work and some employees complained he was a physical threat, according to people familiar with the matter.

"The recent turmoil at the SEC inspector general's office raises questions about how well that office is functioning," Grassley said in a statement on Wednesday. "Information from all sides is necessary to try to establish where things went wrong and what the agency can do to refocus its watchdog capacity."

On Wednesday, Grassley, who is the leading Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released letters he sent to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and Acting Inspector General Noelle Maloney requesting more information about the suspension.

SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment.

One focus of the letters is the role played by an outside security company, AT-RISK International, that looked into the charges made against Weber.

Grassley said allegations have been made that at the time the firm was doing a "security threat evaluation" on Weber it also was being investigated by the inspector general's office "over contracting concerns."

Grassley also sent a letter to AT-RISK President Charles Tobin asking if the firm recommended that Weber be barred from SEC headquarters in Washington D.C. and if so on what basis.

Tobin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, Weber complained to SEC commissioners about alleged misconduct in the inspector general's office, according to sources familiar with the matter.

"The timing doesn't make any sense because he was not considered threatening until people had a motive for retaliating against him," Chris Mead, an attorney for Weber, told Reuters last week. "A chronology of events will reveal that any allegations against my client are not only false, but are unlawful retaliation against an employee who did the right thing."

Mead did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In his letter to Schapiro, Grassley requested information about how many complaints about Weber were received and when they were made.

(Reporting By Dave Clarke in Washington and Sarah N. Lynch in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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