Records: Ex-CEO won’t face charges in nuclear fraud case
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The former top executive for the contractor hired to build two South Carolina nuclear reactors that were never finished won’t face criminal charges, new court documents show.
Former Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick was previously a subject of the federal investigation into the failed multibillion project and is now a government witness, according to the records unsealed last week that were first reported by The Post and Courier.
The documents indicate Roderick could testify against his former employee Jeff Benjamin, a fired Westinghouse vice president who is facing multiple federal felony charges tied to the 2017 debacle that cost ratepayers and investors billions and left nearly 6,000 people jobless.
Westinghouse was the lead contractor in the project to build the reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County. 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.
In the aftermath, prosecutors have targeted top officials at the companies, saying they lied to investors, regulators and ratepayers as they sought rate hikes, insisting the expensive project was on schedule even as it fell hopelessly behind.
Three executives have already pleaded guilty in the multi-year federal fraud investigation so far. Benjamin, the fourth, has maintained his innocence and could go to trial next year. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine if convicted.
Roderick gave the FBI incriminating information about Benjamin in two interviews earlier this year, prosecutors said in court filings. Roderick said Benjamin lied to him about the project schedule and had created a “culture of fear” with an “unbearable” management style.
The documents outlining Roderick’s cooperation are part an effort by prosecutors to disqualify Roderick’s previous attorney from representing Benjamin.
William Sullivan was representing both men at the same time when prosecutors first tried to get him removed last year, arguing it was a conflict of interest as either defendant might turn on the other. Roderick eventually obtained a new lawyer before sitting down with investigators.
Prosecutors still want Sullivan disqualified from the case, noting that Sullivan “cannot properly expect to cross-examine his own former client in defense of his current one,” they wrote.
Sullivan has produced documents showing that both Roderick and Benjamin have approved the arrangement.
Roderick “has explicitly acknowledged that he is unaware of any criminal culpability of Mr. Benjamin,” Sullivan wrote in an emailed statement to The Post and Courier.
Roderick’s new attorney, Whit Ellerman, declined to comment to the newspaper.
The nuclear project failure also spurred multiple lawsuits and a probe by state lawmakers.