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Whistleblowers Awarded $31.25 Million in Settlement with Hanford Nuclear Reservation Contractors for Allegations of Illegal Lobbying and Nuclear Quality Violations

In 2013, whistleblowers Walter Tamosaitis, Donna Busche, and Gary Brunson, all former managers of the Hanford Site vitrification project, filed a sealed complaint in federal court. The case alleged nuclear quality violations, illegal lobbying and the misuse of taxpayers’ money by contractors Bechtel National and AECOM. After a three year investigation, the case was unsealed and a settlement agreement filed in late 2016. Under the False Claims Act the three whistleblowers stand to collectively receive $31.25 million from the settlement.

The Hanford Site is a decommissioned nuclear production complex operated and overseen by the federal government and is located near the Columbia River in Washington state. For decades the site was used for plutonium production for the U.S.’s nuclear weapons program. In 2002 the Hanford Site began construction on a new vitrification plant that was part of an environmental cleanup mission. This vitrification plant would eventually turn 56 million gallons of radioactive waste into glass form for disposal. Hanford hired Bechtel National to design and build the plant and AECOM as the plant’s primary subcontractor. Since the plans for construction were discussed, Bechtel and AECOM have allegedly lobbied illegally for more and more taxpayer money to fund the building of the vitrification plant.

“Illegal lobbying contravenes the established lawful process that is designed to provide independent federal oversight of contractors’ performances,” said Michael Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, in a press release.

On November 23, 2016 the contractors Bechtel National and AECOM entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice for $125 million to settle the case against them. The whistleblowers alleged Bechtel National and AECOM, both contractors to the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state, illegally used tax dollars to lobby Congress for ever more tax dollars to fund the designing and building of the Hanford vitrification plant that began in 2002. Additionally, Bechtel National and AECOM allegedly used taxpayers’ money to buy defective materials that are now installed in the plant. The U.S. Department of Energy is withholding more than $15 million of Bechtel’s incentive pay for 2013-2015 due to concerns about the vitrification plant’s construction quality. The U.S. Department of Energy remains concerned about the quality of the plant and has required Bechtel to review much of the equipment it has installed over the course of construction.

© 2019 by Tycko & Zavareei LLP

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About this Author

Jonathan K. Tycko leads the Whistleblower Practice Group of Tycko & Zavareei LLP

In recent years, the laws of the United States have undergone a whistleblower revolution. Federal and state governments now offer substantial monetary awards to individuals who come forward with information about fraud on government programs, tax fraud, securities fraud, and fraud involving the banking industry. Whistleblowers also now have important legal protections, designed to prevent retaliation and blacklisting.

The law firm of Tycko & Zavareei LLP works on the cutting edge of this whistleblower revolution, taking on even the most complex and confidential whistleblower...

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