3rd guilty plea in failed nuclear project in South Carolina
A former official for the contractor hired to build South Carolina’s two nuclear reactors that were never completed pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to federal authorities.
Carl Churchman argued in federal court, court records show.
Churchman was the project manager for Westinghouse Electric Co., the prime contractor for the construction of two new reactors at the VC Summer plant. The parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. SCANA Corp. and utility company Santee Cooper spent nearly $ 10 billion on the project before stopping construction in 2017 following Westinghouse’s bankruptcy.
The failure cost taxpayers and investors billions and left nearly 6,000 people unemployed.
Churchman pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal officials, court records show. Allowed to remain on bail pending his conviction, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000 and has agreed to help the authorities in their ongoing investigation.
Churchman lied to an FBI agent in 2019, saying he was not involved in communicating the project’s schedule with utility officials, authorities said. But, officials say, Churchman has repeatedly emailed colleagues at Westinghouse about project completion dates, which he reported to executives in 2017.
In another interview last month, Churchman admitted his initial statements were lies, prosecutors said.
“This guilty plea shows that the investigation into the VC Summer nuclear debacle did not end with the former executives of SCANA,” Acting US Attorney Rhett DeHart said in a statement. “We are committed to seeing this matter through and holding all guilty individuals and businesses accountable. “
The implosion led to multiple lawsuits, some by taxpayers claiming company executives knew the project was doomed and misled consumers and regulators as they demanded a series rate increases.
Dominion Energy ultimately paid more than $ 6.8 billion to buy back the shares of SCANA, also assuming its consolidated net debt of $ 6.6 billion. Lawmakers have mulled over the sale of Santee Cooper, but last week approved a redesign proposal that leaves the company public.
Two senior executives have already pleaded guilty in the multi-year federal failure fraud investigation, which cost taxpayers more than $ 2 billion and was probed by state lawmakers.
Former SCANA Corp. Executive Vice President Stephen Byrne agreed last summer to tell investigators everything he knew about the lies and deception used by SCANA and SCE & G to get regulators to approve increases in rates and maintain investor support.
Kevin Marsh, former CEO of SCANA, signed a plea deal on criminal fraud charges in November.