The former chief executive officer of South Carolina energy utility SCANA agreed to plead guilty this week to a federal conspiracy charge in connection with NukeGate – the botched construction of a pair of since-abandoned nuclear reactors that set ratepayers and taxpayers in the Palmetto State back more than $10 billion.
Kevin Marsh – once the most powerful business executive in South Carolina – also agreed to plead guilty to a state charge of obtaining property by false pretenses “with intent to cheat and defraud a person of that property,” according to documents filed in federal court on Tuesday.
He stands to spend at least a year-and-half behind bars in connection with his federal guilty plea, sources familiar with the case told us.
Oh, and that presumes his cooperation assists prosecutors as they seek to advance what is clearly an ongoing investigation …
According to court documents obtained by this news outlet, Marsh agreed “to be fully truthful and forthright with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies by providing full, complete and truthful information about all criminal activities about which he has knowledge.”
If Marsh’s assistance doesn’t help prosecutors advance their case, he could go to jail for up to a decade.
Marsh, 65, also agreed to “pay restitution for the proceeds of his criminal conduct” in the amount of $5 million – of which he must pay at least $3 million prior to his sentencing in federal court at a yet-to-be-determined date.
Marsh is the second ex-SCANA official to plead guilty in connection with this investigation. The company’s former vice president Stephen A. Byrne pleaded guilty to wire fraud back in in July in connection with this inquiry – which began in 2017 following the shocking implosion of the nuclear reactor project.
SCANA (which has since been sold to Virginia-based Dominion Energy) and government-run utility Santee Cooper were partners on the NukeGate project, a definitional command economic failure that has left Palmetto State ratepayers and taxpayers staring down a mountain of debt.
Spurred on by the S.C. General Assembly, these two utilities spent or borrowed more than $10 billion on the construction of a pair of next-generation nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. that were supposed to have been operational in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Despite the massive cash outlay, the project was never finished – and the two utilities couldn’t afford the estimated $10-16 billion price tag necessary to complete it.
Instead, they allegedly concealed this critical information from regulators while continuing to raise rates and rack up additional debt. Santee Cooper, for example, flat out lied on bond documents … and attempted to raise rates on its customers just a week before pulling the plug on the project.
Customers have recovered only pennies on the dollar in connection with several high-profile settlements.
RELATED | Santee Cooper Settlement Update
So far, no Santee Cooper executives have entered into plea agreements or been criminally indicted in connection with NukeGate … and as was the case following the Byrne plea earlier this year, documents filed in connection with Marsh’s plea seemed to be focused exclusively on SCANA executives.
Like Marsh, Byrne also agreed to assist prosecutors in their ongoing deep dive into this command economic debacle – which could soon focus its attentions on Westinghouse, the contractor on the construction of the failed reactors.
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Marsh was at SCANA for 33 years. He became vice president and chief financial officer of the company in 1996 and a senior vice president two years later. A fawning profile of Marsh from the May 2013 edition of Columbia Metropolitan magazine hailed him as “leading (SCANA) and South Carolina into a nuclear power renaissance that will see the state’s first new nuclear plants built in more than 25 years.”
Obviously, that did not happen …
“Through intentional and material misrepresentations and omissions, Marsh deceived regulators and customers in order to maintain financing for the project and to financially benefit SCANA,” documents filed with Marsh’s guilty plea stated. “The members of the conspiracy’s actions and the associated cover-up resulted in billions of dollars of loss.”
“In these already challenging times, no one should be able to use a position of trust, power, and influence to take from the hardworking people of South Carolina,” U.S. Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr. said in announcing the plea. “While the filed documents speak for themselves, this office will continue to work with our federal and state partners to stand firm against those who would seek to defraud South Carolina taxpayers.”
“It is important that that the people at the top be held accountable when they do not follow the law,” South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson said in a corresponding statement. “The attorney general’s office is pleased to work with our federal and state prosecutorial and law enforcement partners to seek justice against those who defraud South Carolinians.”
The prosecution of both Byrne and Marsh is being led by McCoy’s office under the direction of assistant U.S. attorney Jim May – with support from assistant U.S. attorneys Brook Andrews, Emily Limehouse, Winston Holliday and special assistant U.S. attorney John O’Halloran.
Leading the prosecution in the attorney general’s office are Donald Zelenka, Creighton Waters and David Fernandez.
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