RICHLAND — A federal grand jury has indicted 10 current or former managers and supervisors for a contractor at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, accusing them of enabling timecard fraud there.
Federal authorities have been investigating accusations of fraud at south-central Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation for several years.
The federal government built the site in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup expected to last decades and cost billions of dollars.
CH2M Hill Hanford Group Inc. held a contract from 1999-2008 to clean out radioactive waste from underground tanks at the site, which produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal beginning in World War II and through the Cold War.
Earlier this month, the company agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle civil and criminal allegations of defrauding taxpayers in a timecard scheme in which workers routinely overstated the hours they worked. Nine people have already pleaded guilty in the scheme, and federal officials have said some managers condoned the practice.
The indictment filed in U.S. District Court against 10 managers and supervisors claims the company failed to follow a recommendation in a 2004 independent audit to install new timecard equipment to verify that employees worked the hours they claimed, The Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday.
A spokesman for CH2M Hill’s parent company, Denver-based CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The counts include conspiracy, submission of false claims, wire fraud, violation of the anti-kickback act and document alteration. As many as eight of the 10 people indicted still work at the Hanford site for current contractor Washington River Protection Solutions, the newspaper reported.
A telephone message seeking comment was left with a spokesman for Washington River Protection Solutions.
Central to Hanford cleanup is the removal of millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste from 177 underground tanks, many of which are known to have leaked in the past, contaminating the groundwater and threatening the neighboring Columbia River.
State and federal officials recently announced that six tanks at the site are leaking anew, heightening concerns about delays for emptying the tanks.
At the time of the contract, CH2M Hill offered shifts to radiological control technicians in eight-hour blocks, to get them to agree to evening and night overtime work, because overtime was voluntary. According to court documents, the work often could be done in less time, but workers would claim a full eight hours of overtime on their timecards.
CH2M Hill no longer holds the contract for tank waste cleanup, but it is under contract to clean up another section of the 586-square-mile Hanford site.
As part of its settlement, the company agreed to pay for an independent monitor and monitoring system to ensure it takes appropriate corrective actions with its new contract going forward.
When the settlement was announced, CH2M Hill issued a statement saying it was satisfied with the agreement but disappointed by the conduct that made it necessary.
“This conduct was not consistent with CH2M Hill values, but it happened on our watch and we should have rooted it out sooner,” spokesman John Corsi said. “Since 2008, we have made many important oversight and governance changes in how we monitor and manage timecards and overtime at Hanford to make sure that this does not happen again.”