The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating possible securities law violations during a takeover bid for Safeway Stores Inc. launched by Washington's Haft family last year, sources familiar with the case said yesterday.
The sources said the SEC recently asked Oakland-based Safeway to provide details about the sequence of takeover events at the company last July and that the inquiry is part of the commission's wide-ranging investigation of takeover deals involving the investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
In late July 1986 Safeway accepted a $4.1 billion buyout led by company managers and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., a Wall Street firm that specializes in management takeovers. The management bid topped a $3.6 billion offer by Dart Group Inc., which is controlled by the Haft family.
The Hafts were represented in the takeover deal by Drexel, which has acknowledged that it is a target of wide-ranging investigations by the SEC and the Manhattan U.S. attorney. A Drexel executive closely involved in the Safeway deal was Martin A. Siegel, who pleaded guilty to insider stock trading and related charges last February.
The focus of the SEC's inquiry was unclear yesterday. Besides Siegel, the Safeway deal involved two other Wall Street figures who have pleaded guilty and pledged to cooperate with the government: former stock speculator Ivan F. Boesky, who acquired a large number of Safeway shares during the takeover, and former brokerage executive Boyd L. Jefferies, who helped the Hafts trade Safeway stock last summer, sources said.
As part of the probe of Drexel, SEC investigators have made inquiries into a large number of hostile takeover deals that occurred during the past two years.
A spokesman for the Hafts -- who founded the Dart Drug chain, Trak Auto Corp. and Crown Books -- declined to comment.
The Haft family's business interests are managed primarily by Herbert H. Haft and his son, Robert, who oversees Trak and Crown from their Landover headquarters.
Robert D. Hirsch, an attorney for the family, did not return phone calls. Safeway also declined comment.
Sources said that Drexel has been contacted in the current probe. Drexel officials have said repeatedly that they are unaware of wrongdoing by anyone at the firm. A spokesman reiterated that statement yesterday.
The Safeway deal was just one of a half dozen instances in recent years when the publicity-shy Hafts have made unsuccessful hostile takeover bids and still cleared handsome profits.
More recently, family-controlled entities have acquired large stakes in several companies, including Supermarkets General Corp., and then sold their shares at a multimillion-dollar profit after threatening a takeover.
Last October, Dart sold back to Safeway for $59 million an option to acquire a 20 percent stake in the food retailer. By doing so, the Hafts ended their involvement with Safeway.
Wall Street sources have estimated that the Hafts made about $140 million on the deal, after expenses.
The family began acquiring its stake in Safeway in May 1986 and eventually bought 6 percent of the company's shares. The price of Safeway stock rose on takeover speculation before the Hafts disclosed their holdings in June, sending the price even higher.
After the family disclosed its holdings, Safeway sued to avert a takeover attempt, claiming the Hafts had been by tipped professional stock speculators about their intention to make a bid.
The Hafts called the lawsuit "frivolous" and "totally without merit" and proceeded to announce their $3.6 billion takeover offer early in July.
Safeway called the offer inadequate, and by the end of the month the retailer's management had assembled its own bid with the participation of the Kohlberg investment firm.
Management's leveraged buyout, in which Safeway's assets were used to borrow money to purchase the company's shares, was accepted by Safeway's directors on July 27.
Staff writer Caroline Mayer contributed to this report.