An investigation into whether officials at American electricity grid operator ERCOT, in Texas, have engaged in fraud will now involve the participation of a special grand jury.

The allegations, some serious and potentially leading to life sentences if found to be true have dogged the organisation for about a year.

At a speech on his appointment as chief executive of ERCOT in mid-2004 chief executive officer Tom Schrader made assurances that he would ‘aggressively look into’ the allegations of fraud, which involved several ERCOT employees, in effect admitting that the fraud had taken place.

‘It is unfortunate’ he said ‘that the actions of a few employees, who have betrayed the trust of this organization and their fellow employees, have cast aspersions on ERCOT’s reputation. At the same time, we cannot simply write this off as another example of workplace fraud. Because of the critical role ERCOT plays in maintaining reliable electric service and a well-functioning market, ERCOT must achieve the highest standards of integrity’.

He said at the time that he was fully committed to supporting the investigations that were already under way at the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the body which oversees ERCOT.