New criminal charges filed in SC's nuclear plant failure, revealing how project unraveled
- Aug 19, 2021 2:32 pm GMT
Aug. 18—COLUMBIA, S.C. — A second high-ranking employee of
It is the latest criminal charge in a four-year federal investigation of what went wrong at the highest levels of two substantial American companies — Westinghouse and SCANA.
The charges against Benjamin are "for his role in failing to truthfully report information regarding construction of new nuclear units at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant," said
Benjamin's alleged cover-up of billions in losses at Westinghouse's troubled nuclear plants in
"The defendant's misrepresentations and omissions, as well as the associated cover-up, resulted in billions of dollars in losses to (SCANA), ratepayers and investors," the indictment said.
Benjamin, who was responsible for Westinghouse's worldwide construction of nuclear reactors, is the fourth person to face criminal charges in connection with the SCANA scandal. The three others — another former Westinghouse employee and two top SCANA officials — all have agreed to plead guilty to various counts of fraud but have not yet been sentenced.
Benjamin faces 16 felony counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and causing a publicly-traded company to keep a false record.
Benjamin could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The indictment against Benjamin means that he plans to plead not guilty and will stand trial, where numerous government witnesses — including the SCANA and Westinghouse officials who have pleaded guilty — could testify against him.
If convicted, Benjamin could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a
Publicly traded companies like the former SCANA, which issue shares of stock, are required by law to make truthful disclosures about their events affecting their businesses so that investors may make informed decisions as to buy or sell shares of stock. It is against the law to conceal vital facts about a company.
Westinghouse was the contractor on the high-profile nuclear project, which SCANA worked on in partnership with public utility
Although SCANA executives for years had made optimistic public statements about the project's progress, SCANA and its junior partner,
Top officials plead guilty
The former top SCANA officials — CEO
Earlier this year,
Building two nuclear reactors had been one of the state's largest construction projects ever. They were supposed to be pollution-free models of how to produce electric power in the 21st century.
But delays and cost overruns — hidden by SCANA officials from the public and state regulators — eventually doomed the effort, making it one of the largest business failures in
The failure also led to the collapse of SCANA, once one of the state's crown business jewels with 750,000 electric customers and 350,000 natural gas customers. In 2019, SCANA was acquired by
From the conception of the project, in 2008, SCANA had hired Westinghouse, a Toshiba-owned company that had experience building nuclear reactors, to oversee construction of two next generation reactors, called AP1000, at the nuclear facility in
Almost from the beginning, the project was in a race against time. If the two nuclear power plants were finished by
The indictment alleges that Benjamin played a key role in covering up how much trouble the project was in.
In 2016 and 2017, Benjamin knew the nuclear power plants were significantly behind schedule and over budget, the indictment said. But he assured SCANA the project was on schedule "and took active steps to conceal" damaging information about the project schedule, the indictment said.
At the same time, SCANA executives, through their own contacts at the project, were becoming aware of problems affecting the project, according to evidence in the case.
Although SCANA executives' motives in the fraud to which they pleaded guilty were to hide the truth about the project to prop up SCANA's stock price, the motives of Benjamin and other Westinghouse executives in hiding the truth were to keep money flowing from SCANA to Westinghouse, Benjamin's indictment said.
During the time from 2016 to 2017, SCANA and
What the indictment reveals
The indictment is one of the most detailed public statements yet by federal prosecutors about how top executives at both SCANA and Westinghouse hid the truth about the huge costs at the now-abandoned
Details in Wednesday's indictment give a window into exactly what Benjamin is accused of doing and how Westinghouse executives, along with SCANA executives, came to be charged criminally in the case.
In 2016, Westinghouse hired Fluor, a
The 2022 completion date would be two years after the date that would qualify SCANA for the
Although Fluor continued to insist to Westinghouse officials that completing the project by 2020 was unachievable, Westinghouse officials, including Benjamin, sent Fluor a letter telling it to "cease and desist" its efforts to set a new schedule, the indictment said.
Meanwhile, an internal Westinghouse team concluded in
After hearing arguments from Benjamin that the loss would be far less, Westinghouse and its owner, Toshiba, revised the loss estimate down to about
"As construction problems mounted, costs rose, and schedules slipped, (and) defendants hid the true status of the project," the indictment said.
Prosecutors are assistant
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