Contractor traded hunting rifles, football tickets, cellphones and NASCAR tickets as kickbacks for work at nuclear fuel plant, fed say

Contractors Areva and Chicago Bridge and Iron gave kickbacks in the form of football tickets, hunting rifles, cellphones and NASCAR race tickets to get work on a factory at the Savannah River nuclear storage facility says a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Government.

The cost of those kickbacks was later charged to taxpayers, according the False Claims Act complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The contractors were hired to build the plant which  would turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear power plants. The contractors  scheme defrauded hat bilked taxpayers out of $6.4 million according to the Complaint. The suit also concerns over a federal construction effort that was marred by schedule delays, cost overruns and questionable spending.

The unfinished nuclear facility, which was canceled by the U.S. Department of Energy last year after more than $7.6 billion was spent.

According to the complaint filed by the Justice Department, employees for France-based Areva and Texas-based CB&I accepted more than $52,000 in gifts and resulted in several jobs for their family members from Wise Services Inc., a company that supplied material to the nuclear project. A former representative from Wise Services already pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy charges in a related case in 2017.

The lawsuit, filed last week, goes a step further. The complaint asks a federal judge to make the contractors repay three times what Wise Services stole through fake invoices.

CB&I and Areva were named in a similar lawsuit filed in 2013where a whistleblower alleged the companies knew about another supplier that was delivering faulty rebar but continued to approve payments for the company anyway. The federal government eventually took back $4.6 million that was spent on that steel. But CB&I and Areva avoided the liability. Federal authorities say the man at the center of the kickback scheme was Wise Service’s former representative Phillip Thompson. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison after pleading guilty to criminal conspiracy charges.