Giant Fraud Alleged in Hanford Nuke Billing

     DENVER (CN) - Consultants on the Hanford nuclear weapons site cleanup overbilled the federal government "tens of millions of dollars," then fired a paralegal who tried to report the fraud, the woman claims in Federal Court.
     Grace Randazzo sued CH2M Hill Inc., its parent company CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., and her former supervisor, Dudley Wright, alleging wrongful firing and retaliation.
     Randazzo claims that CH2M Hill, an environmental and engineering consultancy, overcharged the Department of Energy for "tens of millions of dollars worth of fraudulently claimed hours" while providing professional services at the Hanford site in Washington.
     The sprawling Hanford nuclear complex supplied uranium and weapons-grade plutonium to the U.S. nuclear arsenal from World War II until the late 1980s. Eleven thousand workers are still involved in the massive cleanup, according to the Department of Energy.
     Randazzo claims the Department of Justice began investigating CH2M Hill after whistleblowers working for a subsidiary reported timecard fraud.
     She says in the lawsuit that her boss panicked and tried to cover up the fraud after the government served notice that it intended to file suit against CH2M Hill for violations of the Anti Kickback Act and the False Claims Act.
     "According to the DOJ's Proposed Complaint, CHG [CH2M Hill Hanford Group] hourly employees and agents involved in the Hanford project routinely overstated the number of hours they worked, and CHG management condoned the practice," the complaint states. "Likewise, the DOJ stated that CHG submitted inflated claims to the DOE that included tens of millions of dollars' worth of fraudulently claimed hours."
     Specifically, the government claimed that CH2M Hill "paid employees for overtime hours that the employees never worked" and "paid unwarranted bonuses to supervisors and then charged government agencies for the costs of those bonuses," Randazzo says in the lawsuit.
     When the Department of Justice came calling with subpoenas, Randazzo claims, her boss ordered her to withhold incriminating documents from investigators.
     "Mr. Wright's directives to plaintiff to ignore the DOJ's demand weighed heavily on plaintiff," Randazzo says in the complaint. "The documents the DOJ reported missing included internal audits and backup documentation, timecard and payroll records, personnel records, and possibly even sections of the company's policies and procedures.
     "It was clear to plaintiff that the documents the company refused to produce, and the information withheld from the DOJ were the things that would implicate CH2M Hill, Ltd. and other entities across the company for fraudulent billing and other illegal practices."
     Randazzo says she was subjected to a "calculated campaign of emotional abuse, retaliation and discrimination" after she confronted Wright about the fraud.
     "In the wake of her whistleblowing, plaintiff became the victim of a hostile and abusive working environment intentionally inflicted upon her by Mr. Wright," the lawsuit states. "Plaintiff was stripped of her responsibilities for highly sensitive and high-risk litigation matters, and those responsibilities were delegated to a recently hired temporary contract employee -a younger male paralegal who was under-qualified to perform the work. After she attempted to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for her dying mother, and her own medical needs, she was misdirected and further retaliation ensued."
     Randazzo claims she was fired because Wright said he could no longer "trust" her.
     "As plaintiff reviewed the false termination letter, she noted that all the alleged deficiencies arose in line with her resistance to Mr. Wright's directive to stonewall the DOJ in the Hanford investigation and her attempts to further a federal False Claims Act case against the company," the complaint states.
     Randazzo seeks compensatory damages and double back pay for wrongful discharge, illegal retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the False Claims Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.
     She is represented by Elizabeth Smith with Freking & Betz in Denver.