Exec, charged with failed SC nuclear project, pleads not guilty

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – A businessman indicted after a failed billion dollar project to build two nuclear reactors in South Carolina pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday.

Jeffrey A. Benjamin was a former senior vice president of Westinghouse Electric Co., the prime contractor for the construction of two new reactors at the VC Summer facility. The parent company SCANA Corp. of South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and state utility Santee Cooper spent nearly $ 10 billion on the project before construction halted after Westinghouse went bankrupt in 2017.

Benjamin now faces 16 crime charges, including several cases of fraud, according to an indictment.

His attorney William Sullivan told the state newspaper that federal prosecutors “have brought unfounded charges against Mr. Benjamin and are relying on a witness who has already admitted under oath that he falsely charged Mr. Benjamin”.

“This case is an abuse of the grand jury process and will fail,” Sullivan said before the trial.

Benjamin, who oversaw all nuclear projects for Westinghouse, received information in 2016 and 2017 that the two VC Summer reactors were behind schedule and above budget, prosecutors said.

But he repeatedly told SCANA and Santee Cooper that the project was on schedule and hid the real schedule of construction from the utilities, the indictment said.

He was fired from Westinghouse in March 2017 just before the company filed for bankruptcy.

The collapse of the VC Summer project sparked multiple lawsuits, some from tariff payers, who said the company’s executives knew the project was doomed and misled consumers and regulators into a series of rate hikes requested. The failure cost taxpayers and investors billions and left nearly 6,000 people unemployed.

Three high-ranking executives have already pleaded guilty to the federal fraud investigations that have been going on for several years. On Monday, federal prosecutors announced that Westinghouse would pay $ 20 million under a collaboration agreement.

Benjamin was released Tuesday on a personal loan note of $ 25,000, the newspaper reported.

The Florida resident faces up to 20 years in prison and a US $ 5,000,000 fine if convicted.

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