The U.S. Justice Dept. has joined a federal lawsuit against an environmental unit of giant Tetra Tech Inc., intervening in three pending whistleblower cases and seeking a jury trial to determine damages and civil penalties.
The suit alleges the firm submitted false payment claims to the U.S. Navy under contracts worth $261 million for radiological testing and cleanup at a former U.S. Navy base in San Francisco, now a Superfund cleanup site eyed for redevelopment. A jury could award up to triple the amount of damages sought.
The suit, in U.S. district court in San Francisco, claims Tetra Tech EC Inc. falsified soil samples and data at the 500-acre Hunters Point site, with incomplete and inaccurate probes.
“Tetra Tech’s fraud was initiated and directed by [its] corporate managers,” states the complaint, which names five project managers and Andrew Bolt, unit president since 2014 and a former program manager.
Two managers pleaded guilty in 2017 to falsifying records and were each sentenced to eight months in prison. Both admitted to substituting clean soil for samples from areas being investigated. Only the firm is a defendant.
The company says a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission probe found management was not involved in misdeeds, saying “data issues were isolated instances of misconduct by low-level rogue employees.”
Tetra Tech says it implemented new procedures to prevent future such misconduct and stands by its work at Hunters Point as thorough, appropriate and overseen by the Navy and regulators. Site radioactive material came from lab activity and decontamination of ships involved in weapons testing.
The U.S. suit says Tetra Tech has caused “disruption, uncertainty and delay” in the cleanup and fears of continued contamination.
Two former site workers filed a separate suit last year, claiming Tetra Tech’s negligence resulted in injuries, including cancer; they seek actual and punitive damages. The suit claims 156,000 cu yd of soil could be toxic.
The Navy says on its website it found widespread potential data falsification by Tetra Tech and will retest 100% of its work.
The Navy revised in November a key site retest plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies found unsatisfactory.
A Navy environmental coordinator told ENR that Jacobs Engineering and APTIM have been contracted for retest work on that site, with work at others to follow.
The suit against publicly held Tetra Tech caught analysts’ attention. “Expect a prolonged legal battle,” said Baird’s Andrew Wittmann in a Jan. 16 note to investors.