4th person charged in South Carolina nuclear project failure
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A fourth business executive faces criminal charges stemming from a federal investigation into a failed multibillion-dollar project to build two nuclear reactors in South Carolina, authorities announced Wednesday.
Jeffrey A. Benjamin was a former senior vice president for Westinghouse Electric Co., the lead contractor to build two new reactors at the V.C. Summer plant. South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. parent company SCANA Corp. and state-owned utility company Santee Cooper spent nearly $10 billion on the project before halting construction in 2017 following Westinghouse’s bankruptcy.
He now faces multiple felony counts of fraud, according to an indictment.
Benjamin, who supervised all nuclear projects for Westinghouse, received information throughout 2016 and 2017 that the two V.C. Summer reactors were behind schedule and over budget, prosecutors said.
But he repeatedly told SCANA and Santee Cooper that the project was on schedule, hiding the construction’s true timeline from the utility companies, the indictment alleges.
He was fired from Westinghouse in March 2017, shortly before the company filed for bankruptcy.
The collapse of the V.C. Summer project spawned multiple lawsuits, some by ratepayers who said company executives knew the project was doomed and misled consumers and regulators as they petitioned for a series of rate hikes. The failure cost ratepayers and investors billions and left nearly 6,000 people jobless.
Benjamin could face up to twenty years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine if convicted.
Three top-level executives have already pleaded guilty in the multi-year federal fraud investigation, and all are awaiting sentencing as they cooperate with investigators.
Former SCANA Corp. Executive Vice President Stephen Byrne agreed last summer to tell investigators everything he knows about the lies and deception SCANA and its subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas used to keep regulators approving rate increases and maintain support from investors.
Kevin Marsh, SCANA’s former CEO, signed a plea deal on felony fraud charges in November.
And Carl Churchman, another Westinghouse official, pleaded guilty in June to lying to federal authorities.