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Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are being investigated by a federal grand jury that could hand up the first criminal indictments against the companies for fatal vehicle wrecks blamed on faulty tires. U.S. Attorney Miriam Miquelon of Illinois’ southern district has issued a subpoena seeking documents from attorneys handling hundreds of civil lawsuits against the tire company and the automaker. The Associated Press on Thursday obtained a copy of the subpoena, which was dated Feb. 19 — the same day a former Bridgestone/Firestone assembly line worker testified before a federal grand jury in Miquelon’s district. Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firestone, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s Bridgestone Corp., has recalled millions of ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires since August 2000 because federal safety officials found they were prone to losing their tread while traveling at high speeds. At least 271 U.S. traffic deaths have been linked to the failed tires, most of which were sold as original equipment on the Ford Explorer, federal officials said. Miquelon’s subpoena demanded information including sworn statements Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford officials made in lawsuits in connection with the tires. A letter accompanying the subpoena said the documents were sought “pursuant to an official criminal investigation of a suspected federal offense being conducted by the federal grand jury,” but did not specify any possible charges. Grand jury investigations do not necessarily result in criminal charges and often are kept secret. A spokesman for Miquelon’s office did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday. Spokespeople for Ford and Bridgestone said their companies had not been approached by Miquelon’s office, but said they have cooperated in past federal and state investigations and would continue to do so. Alan Hogan, who worked on a Bridgestone/Firestone assembly line in Wilson, N.C., from 1991 to 1997, told the grand jury his employers forced him and his co-workers to make tires with steel belts that had lost their adhesion with age, his attorney Rowe Brogdon said. Hogan, who has testified in civil proceedings, said the workers were told to add an adhesive material between the belts to help them stick together, Brogdon said. The tires were of models that later recalled, the Statesboro, Ga., attorney said. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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