Judge orders 3 Hanford timecard fraud trials

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 30, 2013 

Judge Ed Shea file

U.S. District Court Judge Ed Shea at the federal courthouse in Richland.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

A federal judge has reversed his decision to hold a single trial for 10 defendants accused of timecard fraud at Hanford after learning more about the complexity of the case.

The case is not as simple as claiming unworked time on a timecard, said Judge Edward Shea in a new ruling made in response to a hearing last month.

"To the contrary, this case involves a pattern or practice of behavior that spanned nearly a decade, raising the complex issue of who had knowledge of, or aided and abetted, the alleged ongoing illegal activity," he said in a court order.

He heard from attorneys that there is little or no proof that some defendants had knowledge of timecard fraud. All 10 defendants were managers or had supervisory duties for former Hanford contractor CH2M Hill Hanford Group.

Hourly workers are accused of refusing to work overtime unless it was offered in eight-hour blocks. When overtime assignments were completed they would go home, but claim a full eight hours of overtime, CH2M Hill acknowledged in a March agreement to settle civil and criminal allegations. The former tank farm contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million.

The case also is complex because of the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents potentially involved as evidence, with more being made available for consideration, Shea said.

He had other concerns, including practical considerations about the impact on jurors, defense attorneys and the Richland federal court on a trial estimated to last four months if all 10 defendants are tried together.

He ordered that the defendants be split into three groups, with the first trial scheduled from July 9 to Aug. 8 and the second trial to start Sept. 10. A date for the third trial has not been set.

U.S. attorneys had proposed that the 10 defendants be grouped for trial according to their job duties, which correspond to their involvement with CH2M Hill timecards. However, Shea ruled against that motion in September, saying he was concerned that it could create a disadvantage for some defendants.

But in his new ruling, he split the 10 into the groups proposed by the prosecution.

The first group to go to trial will be Glenda Davis and Stephanie Livesey, who worked as direct supervisors. The prosecution said they had a role in approving the timecards of radiological control technicians, including nine hourly workers who have made plea deals.

The second trial will be for Kenneth Baird, James Hay, Perry Mark Howard, Mark Norris Johnson and Daniel Niebuhr. They supervised hourly workers on specific jobs but did not usually approve timecards. Their trial would focus on their role in obtaining authorized overtime for hourly workers from upper managers, according to court documents.

The last group to face trial will be upper managers Patrick Brannan, Terrence Hissong and Ryan Dodd. They have been accused of concealing the timecard scheme and ensuring that deadlines were met to allow CH2M Hill to receive incentive payments from the Department of Energy. Meeting the deadlines also allowed Dodd and Hissong to receive corporate bonuses, according to the prosecution.

Shea is concerned that a jury would find it challenging to consider large amounts of evidence for each defendant if it heard all the evidence in a single trial, he said in the court order. Finding willing jury members to serve for four months from September 2014 through the holiday season would be difficult, he said.

A trial lasting an estimated four months would be a hardship on defense attorneys who have solo practices, he said. It also would test judicial resources. By September 2014, the single federal courtroom in Richland will be used by two judges with separate trial calendars.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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