Accused SCANA exec pleads guilty to billions in fraud

Federal agents say he participated with others in defrauding investors
State regulators inadequately reviewed the fraud due to a bias for SCE&G and against ratepayers, Tom Clements said.

“Byrne’s plea for his role in the reactor construction boondoggle will be historic as officials responsible for such failed projects rarely get caught and never confess to their crimes,”

BY: JERRY BELLUNE | lexingtonchronicle.com

An ex-SCANA executive has pleaded guilty in a $9 billion nuclear fraud. SCANA’s top nuclear executive, Steve Byrne, is accused of conspiracy in a failed nuclear project which cost investors – including his own employees – millions in stock losses.
“The judge went over the determination of Mr. Byrne’s mental state and if he understood all the charges and the rights that he was waiving,” said Tom Clements of Savannah River Watch, a close observer of the case.
“He affirmed his competency, waived his right to a grand jury investigation, understood the charges and willingly pleaded guilty to them.”
Assistant US Attorney Jim May went over the charges, the plea agreement and supporting evidence.
US Attorney Peter McCoy summarized the charges and proof of them.

Federal agents were expected to release Byrne without bond as he is not a flight risk or threat to the community.
Thecharges against Byrne led from a joint SCANA-Santee Cooper project that:
1. Saddled more than 725,000 SC Electric & Gas ratepayers with $2 billion in costs.
2. Led to a near bankruptcy of Lexington County-based SCE&G and its sale to Dominion Energy.
3. Damaged the future of nuclear power in SC.
As Chief Operating Officer of SCANA, the owners of SCE&G, Byrne has admitted to knowingly engaging with others in fraud during construction of 2 Westinghouse AP100 reactors.
Byrne may face 5 years in prison and fines of not more than $1 million although the court could fine him more.
Federal officials are believed to have offered him a deal to testify against fellow executives and their lawyers who may have participated in the conspiracy.  
To assure that Byrne, a former Irmo resident, follows the terms, sentencing will occur later.
Byrne has signed a plea agreement with federal agents which stipulate what he must do.
The failed nuclear project and a state law that allowed SCE&G to bilk ratepayers of $2 billion was formally opposed before the Public Service Commission by Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, the SC Small Business Chamber and the Coalition to Stop the Blank Check.
Byrne agreed to be “fully truthful” about “criminal activities about which he has knowledge” and to provide documentation and testify at the trial of others.
Court documents reveal that the federal attorney believes other executives and lawyers:
1. Were involved in the conspiracy to cover-up problems at the failing nuclear project.
2. Made “false and misleading statements” about it to the PSC.
3. Took advantage of the Base Load Review Act in which SC lawmakers allowed SCE&G to pass all costs and risks to ratepayers.
State regulators inadequately reviewed the fraud due to a bias for SCE&G and against ratepayers, Clements said.
“Byrne’s plea for his role in the reactor construction boondoggle will be historic as officials responsible for such failed projects rarely get caught and never confess to their crimes,” he said.
Clements was a main intervenor at the start and finish of the project.
 “Byrne, who should serve prison time, must fully reveal the criminal role of others in the conspiracy that has been so disastrous for ratepayers,” Clements said.
These include former CEO Kevin Marsh and former CFO Jimmy Addison, he said.
Court documents imply that other individuals are being investigated.
That means they and “lawyers who advised them” may face criminal charges, Clements said.
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