Crime

3 more indicted in Hanford purchasing fraud

RICHLAND — A third round of indictments has been issued in federal court for former Hanford employees accused of federal credit card fraud.

In the indictment filed this week, three former employees are accused of using a single federal credit card -- called a purchase or P-card at Hanford -- to fraudulently obtain goods or money with a combined worth of about $557,696 from the Department of Energy.

Suzie Zuniga, a former material coordinator for the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant, was charged with 15 counts of wire fraud. Tommy L. Honeycutt Jr., a former Hanford pipefitter, and Pedro Alvarado Jr., a former Hanford driver, each were charged with five counts of wire fraud.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Zuniga was employed by Fluor Hanford and used a P-card issued to her by Fluor to make approximately 220 suspect purchases, some in cooperation with either Honeycutt or Alvarado, according to accusations in the indictment filed in Eastern Washington U.S. District Court. The purchases were made between Oct. 1, 2004, and July 1, 2008, according to court documents.

Three months later, the environmental cleanup portion of Fluor Hanford's contract expired, and work was taken over by CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.

But shortly before the cleanup contract expired, Fluor fired unnamed employees it said were believed linked to P-card fraud over several years. At the time, about 130 Fluor Hanford employees out of 3,600 had been issued the government credit cards and about 30,000 purchases a year were being made on the cards. The cards were intended to reduce transaction fees and lower costs for DOE work.

In the alleged scheme described in new court documents, fraudulent invoices were prepared by Zuniga, Honeycutt and Alvarado to make it appear that supplies were purchased and delivered to Hanford from approved vendors for the Plutonium Finishing Plant. The invoices were for supplies from several vendors, including Fast Pipe and Supply Co. in Pasco, Kennewick Industrial and Electrical Supply and Harold's Repair and Rental in Sunnyside, all of which have supplied materials to Hanford.

The three took possession of items that were paid for with P-cards at the businesses or other locations off the Hanford site, the indictment said.

Zuniga also is accused of altering vendor sales orders to make it look like legitimate supplies were ordered and filing 45 false monthly transaction approval reports required to confirm that P-card account statements were consistent with purchases made.

The counts of wire fraud include five counts for P-card transactions of up to $9,300 involving only Zuniga from March 2007 to May 2008. Five more counts are for P-card transactions of up to $2,376 involving Zuniga and Honeycutt from January 2005 to January 2008. The final five counts are for P-card transactions of up to $4,380 involving Zuniga and Alvarado from April 2006 to November 2007.

None of the three could be reached for comment.

The series of indictments over alleged P-card fraud this spring started with an accusation that former Hanford employee Paul F. Kempf had created fraudulent invoices for purchases through a business based in his West Richland home, AMG Marketing. The invoices were for laboratory supplies that never were delivered to Hanford, according to court documents.

He and a woman believed to be his wife, Anita M. Gust, have pleaded innocent. A trial has been set for June 16.

In the second set of indictments, former Hanford employee Gregory Detloff is accused of a similar scheme in which orders were placed with Martin Perez, then an employee of Kennewick Industrial and Electrical Supply. Perez then would make the purchases through Detloff Industries, owned by Detloff's wife, according to court documents.

Hanford Department of Energy employees were notified earlier this month that the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office were investigating fraud related to federal government credit cards at Hanford. They were told to preserve documents related to P-card purchases from several businesses, all of which have now appeared in the series of court documents.

* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com

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