Former Westinghouse exec charged with conspiracy, fraud over Summer fiasco

August 23, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News


A federal grand jury has indicted a former Westinghouse Electric Company executive for allegedly concealing information regarding progress (or, more accurately, lack of progress) on the now defunct multibillion-dollar expansion project at the Summer nuclear plant.

Jeffrey A. Benjamin, who served as Westinghouse’s senior vice president for new plants and major products during the effort to build two AP1000 reactors at the Jenkinsville, S.C., facility, has been charged with 16 felony counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and causing a publicly traded company to keep a false record, according to an August 18 news release from the U.S. States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina. The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a $5 million fine.

The indictment alleges that from September 2016 through March 2017, Benjamin, despite having received information that the new units were materially behind schedule and over budget, assured owners SCANA and Santee Cooper that the reactors would be completed on schedule and took active steps to conceal damaging information about the project schedule.

For the prosecution: “Our commitment to investigate and prosecute the V. C. Summer nuclear debacle has never wavered,” said acting U.S. attorney M. Rhett DeHart. “While the indictment—and the allegations contained within—speaks for itself, it is further proof of our commitment to seek justice for South Carolina ratepayers and all others affected by the V.C. Summer project failure.”

FBI special agent-in-charge Susan Ferensic commented, “The FBI has devoted substantial resources to investigating this matter and will continue to work with the United States Attorney’s Office, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office to find facts and prove criminal conduct.”

For the defense: Benjamin’s attorney, William Sullivan, of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, called the charges “baseless,” adding that no evidence has been presented “beyond the self-serving statements of a witness who admitted under oath in open court to making false accusations against Mr. Benjamin and representatives of the project’s owners who admitted their own fraud and who do not and cannot implicate my client, but nevertheless seek to lessen their own criminal sentences.”

Sullivan also said that the Summer investigation “has become its own waste of taxpayer money and resources on a wholly unfounded and meritless prosecution.”

Backdrop: Benjamin is the fourth person to be charged in the ongoing federal investigation into the failure of the Summer construction project. Former SCANA chief executive officer Kevin Marsh, former SCANA executive vice president Stephen Byrne, and former Westinghouse vice president Carl Churchman have all pleaded guilty to federal felony charges for their roles.

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