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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new lead investigator at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's watchdog office has been placed on administrative leave 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.
David Weber, who joined the SEC only a few months ago as the new assistant inspector general for investigations, was placed on leave Tuesday after internal security personnel revoked his SEC identification and banned him from entering SEC headquarters in Washington D.C., these people said.
Chris Mead, an attorney for Weber, said his client is being wrongfully retaliated against. He added he was also dismayed that efforts to invoke a lawful process to carry a firearm could be called a "threat."
Weber complained earlier this year to SEC commissioners about alleged misconduct in the inspector general's office, the sources said. His complaint came to light in news reports earlier this week.
"The timing doesn't make any sense because he was not considered threatening until people had a motive for retaliating against him," Mead said. "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."
The events are the latest sign of turmoil in the SEC's Office of Inspector General, which polices any waste, fraud and abuse at the agency. The office came under scrutiny shortly before then inspector general David Kotz left in January after questions were raised about Kotz's hard-hitting tactics and ethical behavior. [ID:nL1E8CHBQA] Kotz has denied any wrongdoing.
Now, AT-RISK, a security consulting firm, has been tapped to review the complaints about Weber's conduct, the sources said.
The firm's investigators are interviewing employees inside the watchdog office about their interactions with Weber, the sources added.
Weber came to the SEC from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, where he was a supervisory counsel in charge of banking enforcement. He joined the SEC in January, just before Kotz departed to work for a private investigations firm.
Among the complaints by SEC staff about Weber are that he openly spoke about wanting to carry a concealed firearm inside the SEC's headquarters building in Washington, the sources said.
He also solicited investigators inside the office to participate in special training so they could become eligible for a concealed weapons permit and brought a bullet-proof vest into work, the sources said.
John Nester, an SEC spokesman, declined to comment about Weber.
Earlier this week, Nester said the agency received a complaint from an individual about possible misconduct by current and former inspector general's office employees.
He declined to provide any details, saying the SEC was hiring an outside investigator.
He also said the matter had been referred to the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, or CIGIE, a government council that monitors the work of 73 inspectors.
Kotz, who now works as a managing director at the private investigative firm Gryphon Strategies, said he does not believe any allegations were actually ever made about him and he said CIGIE had already decided that Weber's accusations had no merit.
He called Weber's accusations "completely and utterly ludicrous and untrue."
"I have learned that allegations about the SEC OIG were considered by the Integrity Committee and determined to be not worthy of investigation and dismissed entirely. I was not advised at any point that any allegations were made about me or that the Integrity Committee was reviewing any allegations about me," he said in an e-mail.
He added that no one within his prior office was ever aware of such allegations. He said the source of them was "questionable" and that he had "almost no contact" with Weber during the brief time their tenures overlapped.
In addition to previously working at the FDIC, Weber also worked as a Special Counsel for Enforcement at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and before that, a law clerk for a U.S. district court judge in New York.
The SEC's five commissioners are currently searching for a new inspector general. The inspector general will be in charge of overseeing all of the office's operations, including audits and investigations. Weber's job is to oversee the investigative arm of the office.
Editing by Martin Howell and Andre Grenon