Jury finds Hanford supervisors innocent on all counts in timecard fraud trial

A jury has found four Hanford workers innocent on all counts related to allegations they aided timecard fraud.

The 12-person jury began deliberating Thursday morning and announced a verdict about 4:18 p.m. in the U.S. courtroom of the Richland Federal Building.

Kenneth Baird, James Hay, Perry Howard and Mark Johnson were all field work supervisors, acting as foremen on specific jobs, for former Hanford tank farm contractor CH2M Hill Hanford Group.

They were found innocent after a four-week trial of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, major fraud against the United States and two counts each of submission of false claims.

The prosecution did not have the evidence to convince a jury, said Seattle attorney John Crowley, representing Baird.

“We just believe the jury got it right, and we are so thankful,” said Spokane attorney Julie Twyford, representing Johnson.

Eleven former Hanford employees pleaded guilty earlier to charges related to timecard fraud. They included one supervisor who was scheduled to be tried with the four who were exonerated Thursday.

Overtime work was offered in eight-hour shifts to get workers to volunteer. When jobs were completed in less than eight hours, some workers would go home but claim pay for a full eight hours on their timecards.

Under terms of the Hanford tank farm contract, the federal government reimbursed CH2M Hill for those labor expenses. But federal officials said they would have not paid for those hours if they knew they had not been worked.

The prosecution accused the four defendants of aiding in the practice of claiming unworked overtime, or at least turning a blind eye to the practice, but their attorneys said they had no authority to hire, fire or discipline the workers they supervised on individual jobs.

During closing statements the defense urged the jury to be skeptical of testimony offered by workers who had pleaded guilty to charges related to timecard fraud.

Some had made plea agreements that required them to give substantial help to the prosecution in exchange for a possible reduced sentence. They were under pressure to give compelling testimony against the defendants, the defense attorneys said.

A manager who has pleaded guilty testified that timecard fraud was widespread and well-known. But she also said she was unaware that two of the radiological control technicians she supervised were involved. The two workers also pleaded guilty.

If the manager, who supervised the workers, did not know they were committing timecard fraud, then how could the four defendants be expected to know it, asked their attorneys.

Four additional defendants have yet to go to trial after pleading innocent.

U.S. Judge Edward Shea ruled Thursday that instead of trying them in two groups as planned earlier, a joint trial for all four will be held in February. They include three upper managers and a manager who reviewed worker timecards.

In 2013 CH2M Hill agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle civil and criminal allegations of defrauding taxpayers through widespread timecard fraud at the Hanford tank farms.