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Prison sentence for corrupt nuclear executive

Ex-SCANA CEO to become first to get handed a prison sentence over VC Summer failure, https://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article254135578.html      BY JOHN MONK SEPTEMBER 11, 2021 COLUMBIA, S.C.

An Oct. 7 date has been set for the sentencing of Kevin Marsh, the former CEO of SCANA who pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal conspiracy fraud charges involving a cover-up of financial troubles connected to the failure of the company’s $10 billion V.C. Summer nuclear project.

Marsh, 65, who pleaded guilty in February, has agreed to a two-year prison sentence for his role, according to federal court records.

Marsh was eligible to receive a maximum five-year sentence for his crimes, but he caught a break after he agreed to cooperate in other ongoing investigations and prosecutions in the SCANA case, according to court records. Marsh had worked his way from a position in SCANA’s accounting department to CEO.

The Oct. 7 hearing will be at the federal courthouse in Columbia before U.S. District Judge Mary Lewis.

Marsh would be the first person to receive a prison sentence in the failure of the company’s nuclear project. Another former SCANA executive, Stephen Byrne, also has pleaded guilty to similar conspiracy charges.

Marsh is one of four senior executives — two from SCANA and two from Westinghouse Electric Corp. — charged in the four-year federal investigation into the July 2017 abandonment of the nuclear project by SCANA and its junior state-owned project partner, Santee Cooper.

From 2008 to July 2017, Westinghouse was the major contractor for SCANA’s nuclear project, overseeing construction at the utility’s VC Summer site in Fairfield County, north of Columbia.

At Marsh’s guilty plea in February, assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May told Lewis that Marsh’s crime was “a violation of public trust” — not an effort to illegally make millions for himself.

What Marsh did was hide the true state of the project as costs were spiraling out of control and finishing dates were being unduly delayed from the public, investors and regulators, May said at the hearing.

The highly publicized project had a worthy goal, May said.

“The project was to do something that it had not been done in the United States since late 1970’s — build a nuclear power plant — with the idea that this success would spark a nuclear renaissance and provide for reduction on dependence of fossil fuels,” May said.

SCANA was under pressure to meet construction deadlines to qualify for more than $1 billion in federal tax credits, but it also was under obligation to make public true information about the status of the project, May said.

“Mr. Marsh did not make these disclosures but repeated positive (false) information about the project’s status. It is for this failure that he is criminally liable,” May said.

MORE FACE CHARGES

Two of the other three have pleaded guilty and one is fighting the federal charges connected to giving false information about the project. They are:

 Carl Churchman, a Westinghouse official who oversaw construction at the nuclear project. He has agreed to plead guilty to lying to an FBI agent about what he knew about the progress of the project when it was still ongoing.

 Jeffrey Benjamin, a former Westinghouse senior vice president of new plants and projects, faces multiple counts of fraud, according to an 18-page indictment made public in August in U.S. District Court in Columbia. Benjamin’s lawyer has said he is innocent of the charges and plans on seeking a trial.

Stephen Byrne, a former top SCANA official, pleaded guilty in July 2020 to criminal conspiracy fraud charges in federal court in Columbia.

Byrne’s guilty plea, the first of three guilty pleas so far, showed that SCANA’s downfall — triggered by the failed nuclear project — was the result of not just mismanagement or incompetence, but criminal conduct at the company’s highest levels.

Like Marsh, Churchman and Byrne have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and could be witnesses in any future court proceedings, including those concerning Benjamin.

SCANA, a Fortune 500 publicly traded company whose business lineage traced back to 1846, was one of the crown jewels of South Carolina’s economy.

But the failure of its effort to build two nuclear reactors at its plant in Jenkinsville led to multiple lawsuits and mounting financial troubles. Eventually the company was absorbed by Dominion Energy. SCANA’s downfall is perhaps the most costly business failure in state history.

Once SCANA and Santee Cooper announced they were abandoning the venture in July 2017, SCANA’s stock price began to plummet and its financial and political troubles began to mount. SCANA was hit by multiple lawsuits, most of which have now been settled with multi-million dollar payoffs to investors and ratepayers.

The motives of Westinghouse and SCANA officials in covering up the project’s true status were different, according to evidence in the case.

Westinghouse officials lied about of the status in order to have SCANA keep on paying the company for ongoing construction; the lies of SCANA officials were aimed at deceiving the public and regulators in hopes of figuring out a way to still get the federal tax credits, even if SCANA missed the deadline to qualify for the credits, according to evidence in the case.

SCANA’s failure affected the pocketbooks of hundreds of thousands of people and businesses.

For years, the company had jacked up customers’ monthly power bills to help pay billions in ongoing construction costs for the two nuclear reactors that were supposed to be built, but now will never generate power.

When the plant was abandoned, several thousand construction employees also lost their jobs.

September 13, 2021 - Posted by | Legal, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA

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