Federal agents have launched a criminal investigation involving manufacturers and suppliers of polyacrylonitrile-based carbon fiber and preimpregnated materials.
Industry sources said Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have visited numerous offices since late January and requested business records and correspondence including electronic-mail messages.
Broad subpoenas have summoned company officials to appear before a grand jury sitting at the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The subpoenas do not elaborate on the probe's focus.
A public affairs spokeswoman with the Justice Department in Washington withheld comment.
The investigation has touched a wide range of advanced-composite-material makers and suppliers. Executives at major players Cytec Fiberite Inc. and BP Amoco plc limited themselves to a ``no comment'' in responding to inquiries.
Hexcel ``is cooperating with the U.S. government, but no further information is available at this time,'' the company said Feb. 11. Hexcel, of Stamford, Conn., has a major presence in Pleasanton, Calif. The firm makes both carbon fiber and prepreg. Hexcel acknowledged it has received a subpoena.
Cytec Fiberite of Tempe, Ariz., a unit of Cytec Industries Inc., makes prepreg among other product lines.
An Alpharetta, Ga.-based unit of recently merged oil giant BP Amoco makes PAN- and pitch-based carbon fiber.
Units of Toho Rayon Co. Ltd., Toray Industries Inc. and Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd. were among those visited. The Japan-based companies have varying levels of U.S. activity.
``We were contacted on Jan. 29,'' a Toho executive said in a Feb. 11 telephone interview. Toho makes carbon fiber and prepreg in Japan and sells the products in the United States through subsidiary Toho Carbon Fibers Inc. of Palo Alto and Irvine, Calif.
A Toray subsidiary, Toray Composites America Inc., has made prepreg in Frederickson, Wash., since 1995. Sister unit Toray Carbon Fibers America Inc. is completing construction of a carbon fiber plant in Decatur, Ala.
Mitsubishi Rayon operates through two California units. Grafil Inc. in Sacramento makes carbon fiber, and Newport Adhesives and Composites Inc. in Irvine makes resin film and preimpregnates PAN-based fibers.
Industry officials interviewed for this story said they do not have a firm understanding of the exact nature of the investigation. In some cases, large groups of FBI agents have arrived at sites simultaneously to gather company records, company officials said.