Paralegal: CH2M Hill withheld documents in fraud case

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 7, 2013 

A former CH2M Hill paralegal says she was fired after she accused the company of purposely withholding documents from prosecutors investigating timecard fraud at Hanford.

Grace Randazzo filed a lawsuit last week against CH2M Hill and her former supervisor in federal court in Colorado.

CH2M Hill, in a statement, said the lawsuit is without merit, incoherent and lacks facts to support any of its claims.

The company agreed in March 2013 to pay $18.5 million to settle civil and criminal allegations of defrauding taxpayers through widespread timecard fraud at the Hanford nuclear reservation. Allegations concerned its performance as the Department of Energy's tank farm contractor until 2008.

In addition, 10 managers and supervisors who worked for CH2M Hill at the Hanford tank farms are heading to trial. Nine hourly workers have made plea deals but have not been sentenced.

Randazzo, who worked at a corporate office in Colorado, was assigned to prepare responses to government requests to produce documents for threatened or pending legal investigations, according to her lawsuit.

She was assigned to search and locate documents for the Department of Justice in an earlier case, a 2010 investigation of fraud linked to CH2M Hill purchasers at the Hanford tank farms. She had concerns then that CH2M Hill was withholding information about hundreds, if not thousands, of stored boxes of Hanford records and Hanford databases and that Hanford staff were hiding or destroying potentially damaging records, according to her legal complaint.

Later that year, CH2M Hill received a subpoena for documents related to timecard fraud allegations. The company is accused of billing DOE for more overtime than was worked to induce employees to accept overtime shifts.

"The TC (timecard) subpoena represented enormous, potential exposure to the company, and the legal department knew it," according to the legal complaint.

If subsidiaries other than CH2M Hill Hanford Group, the former Hanford tank farm contractor, were implicated in deceptive timecard practices, the cost to CH2M Hill could be hundreds of millions of dollars, Randazzo was told by her supervisor, Dudley Wright, the CH2M Hill corporate lead litigation attorney, according to the legal complaint.

CH2M Hill initially produced a limited number of documents related to timecard fraud for the Department of Justice, which then notified CH2M Hill in May 2011 that it was not satisfied.

But Randazzo was told to remain silent about documents she either knew or suspected still existed at Hanford, according to the legal complaint. If CH2M Hill Hanford Group did not search the stored boxes of Hanford records and databases, then it should at least let the Department of Justice know it existed, Randazzo argued.

"The documents the DOJ reported missing included internal audits and backup documentation, timecard and payroll records, personnel records and possibly even sections of the company's polices and procedures," according to the legal complaint.

The information withheld might implicate CH2M Hill, the parent company to the Hanford contractor, and other CH2M Hill entities for fraudulent billing and other illegal practices, Randazzo alleges.

CH2M Hill has cooperated and continues to cooperate with the Department of Justice, including making a full and complete production of documents in response to subpoenas, said John Corsi, CH2M Hill spokesman.

It has taken steps to notify the U.S. Attorney's Office as the production of documents was made in close cooperation with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office, he said.

After Randazzo raised concerns, she began to be harassed to get her to quit and then was fired in October 2011, she said in court documents. She believes she was fired in retaliation for refusing to mislead the Department of Justice.

Randazzo is asking for double back pay with interest, compensation for future wages she will lose because of her potentially damaged reputation, compensation for emotional damage and punitive damages.

CH2M Hill described Randazzo as a disgruntled former employee.

Randazzo was employed by CH2M Hill for nine years and had a stellar performance record before she called out her boss on lack of cooperation in document production and then was fired, said her attorney, Elizabeth Smith, of Greenwood Village, Colo.

CH2M Hill plans to vigorously defend itself, Corsi said.

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

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