The Paducah Sun

Justice probe may last through November

By Bill Bartleman

It will take until at least November for the U.S. Department of Justice to complete its investigation and decide if it wants to get involved in a federal lawsuit alleging deception by former private operators of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Michael Troop, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said a member of his staff is working full time on the investigation and is in Paducah conducting interviews and reviewing records.

At the same time, officials with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Justice Department are working in Washington, investigating the allegations that Lockheed Martin and its subsidiaries filed false reports regarding environmental conditions at the plant in order to collect higher fees for managing the facility.

"I don't want to get locked into a timetable, but the judge has given us until November," Troop said. He added that he thought it would take at least that long to review the allegations and decide if they have merit.

The investigation involves a suit filed June 1 under the federal False Claims Act. Lockheed Martin and its subsidiaries managed the plant for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Enrichment Corp. from 1984 until last year, when day-to-day management was taken over by the U.S. Enrichment Corp.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Paducah by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group, and three plant employees - Garland (Bud) Jenkins, Charles Deuschle and Ronald Fowler.

If the suit proved successful, the former operators would have to repay the excess fees to the federal government. If it joins in the suit, the federal government would keep 75 percent of the fees and the plaintiffs would share the remaining 25 percent. If the Justice Department does not get involved and the suit were successful, the plaintiffs would share 30 percent of the amount refunded.