Legal & Regulatory

Indictment of Former Westinghouse Executive Charged in Connection with V.C. Summer Nuclear Project Dismissed

Former Westinghouse Electric Co. Senior Vice President Jeffrey A. Benjamin’s motion to dismiss for grand jury bias a federal indictment issued in August 2021 alleging he concealed damaging information concerning the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project schedule was granted by U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis on August 2, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Benjamin had been charged with 16 felony counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and causing a publicly traded company to keep a false record, for allegedly failing to truthfully report information regarding construction of new nuclear units at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant. After the indictment was issued, Benjamin filed a motion to dismiss it for failure to state an offense. In response, the government indicated it planned to seek a superseding indictment, after which, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment containing the same charges, but some changed language.

The grand jury, however, was drawn from a statewide pool of citizens. Although the grand jurors were told at orientation they could decline to participate in a particular case if they felt they were unable to remain impartial, it appears the government failed to identify and recuse those grand jurors who were ratepayers to the owners—utility companies SCANA and Santee Cooper.

Benjamin argued the court should dismiss the indictment because the grand jury was comprised, at least in part, of victims of his alleged crime, that is, ratepayers, which impermissibly tainted the superseding indictment. The government, however, argued that this was a case of “diffuse public harm”—akin to public corruption or environmental pollution—that fails to disqualify ratepayer grand jurors. Such crimes harm society as a whole, and thus lack specifiable victims.

But the order notes that rather than diffuse harm, in this case, the government specifically alleged significant financial injury to ratepayers. Ratepayers, although a large group, are distinct from the general public. Therefore, the judge granted Benjamin’s motion to dismiss for grand jury bias. Nonetheless, the order also states, “nothing in this opinion precludes the government from properly presenting a new indictment to a grand jury in accordance with the time allowed by statute.”

William M. Sullivan Jr., lead counsel for Benjamin, issued a statement saying: “We are very gratified by Judge Lewis’s lucid and articulate ruling, properly finding under the facts and the Constitution that Mr. Benjamin’s unequivocal Fifth Amendment right to an unbiased grand jury was compromised in this case. We also applaud her recognition that while dismissal is rare, it is also required in matters such as this one where such an extreme Constitutional violation occurred.”

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@POWERmagazine).

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