The criminal charges keep coming over South Carolina's V.C. Summer nuclear power plant project, which was shut down in 2017 after a waste of billions of dollars.
Two months after earning a guilty plea from a former Westinghouse Electric Co. project director, the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office on Aug. 18 announced a 16-count indictment against a former executive, Jeffrey Alan Benjamin. He was positioned higher on the Westinghouse corporate hierarchy during a key period of the so-called nuclear debacle.
Filed in federal court in Columbia, S.C., the indictment charges Benjamin—who served as Westinghouse’s senior vice president for new plants and major projects—with misrepresenting the project status and possible completion dates. He faces 16 felonies, including 13 instances of wire fraud, as well as securities fraud and conspiracy.
The indictment focuses on the critical period of mid-2015 to mid-2017, just prior to SCANA’s July 2017 decision to abandon the over-budget, behind-schedule nuclear expansion project, located in Jenkinsville, S.C. Critically, it was during that period that Westinghouse acquired CB&I nuclear subsidiary Stone & Webster, and thereby assumed the role of general contractor.
It was also at this time that the company agreed to a fixed-price contract with project owner SCANA, which shifted considerable cost risk to Westinghouse, and eventually led to the firm’s U.S. bankruptcy.
According to the U.S. Attorney's announcement, despite knowing that the V.C. Summer units were “materially behind schedule and over budget,” Benjamin nevertheless “assured the owners that the units would be completed on schedule and took active steps to conceal from the owners damaging information about the project schedule.”
Citing notes from a September 2016 “President’s Meeting”—of the CEOs of Westinghouse, SCANA, Santee Cooper and Fluor—the indictment asserts that SCANA CEO Jeffrey Marsh asked Benjamin if he knew “of anything” that would make the scheduled respective completion dates of November 2019 and July 2020 unachievable. Benjamin replied: “No, not today.”
Previously though, according to the indictment, Fluor, which served as a Westinghouse subcontractor, had submitted a letter to Westinghouse indicating that the dates were “unrealistic.” Fluor later provided an estimate that the first new unit would not be finished until August 2022, or nearly three years beyond the schedule that SCANA had submitted to state regulators.
Later Completion Not Accepted
Made aware of Fluor’s estimate, Benjamin expressed to the contractor that the firm’s later dates were unacceptable, according to the indictment.
“This indictment with its attendant allegations and charges is another step toward justice for all those responsible for the V.C. Summer nuclear plant fiasco,” stated Susan Ferensic, FBI Special Agent in Charge.
Reached by ENR, Westinghouse officials declined to comment. No phone listing could be found for Benjamin’s last listed employer, J.B. Global Energy Services, or a residence in the Pittsburgh area, where the company is based.