Attorneys for Andrew Siemaszko Thursday sought an acquittal for their client on the grounds that the one-time Davis-Besse employee was oblivious to errors in key documents that went to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission weeks before the plant's old reactor head nearly blew apart in 2002.
A former systems engineer who FirstEnergy put in charge of the reactor head despite inadequate training for that job, Siemaszko was convicted in August by a U.S. District Court jury in Toledo on three of five felony charges of withholding vital information from a government agency.
Now a resident of Spring, Texas, Siemaszko faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. He is to be sentenced Feb. 6 unless Judge David Katz overturns the verdicts.
His attorneys, Washington-based Billie Garde and Chuck Boss of Maumee, yesterday said their client should be acquitted or given a new trial because the jury convicted him without the U.S. Department of Justice proving intent.
The defense attorneys acknowledged errors in records Siemaszko generated or collaborated on.
But they reminded the judge that multiple revisions were made by those higher up the FirstEnergy corporate ladder before the records were turned over to the NRC.
"The information presented by Mr. Siemaszko was accurate to the best of his knowledge, but he did not know how they were being altered above him," Ms. Garde said.
The two attorneys also said Eric Calhoun, a federal investigator who claimed at the trial to have coaxed an unrecorded confession from Siemaszko, never established for the jury whether Siemaszko knew about the errors before they were submitted to the NRC or long after the fact.
Tom Ballantine, one of two assistant U.S. attorneys who presented evidence against Siemaszko at his trial, said the government met its burden of proof and the verdicts should stand.
The arguments were broadcast via a live video transmission from Washington to the Toledo courtroom.
Evidence showed maintenance on Davis-Besse's old reactor head had been neglected for years, allowing acid from the reactor to escape and nearly burn a hole through the 6 inches of steel that make up the cap.
NRC brass used the flawed documents as its basis for allowing the plant to stay online at least six weeks longer than some agency staffers wanted after suspecting a problem in the fall of 2001. The decision led to numerous investigations on Capitol Hill once congressmen learned that the NRC's top officials needlessly endangered northern Ohio's public safety.
Among them was a NRC inspector general report which accused the agency of being duped by FirstEnergy management, which later conceded it had a profit-over-safety mentality at the time.
Federal prosecutors have described the case as one of the biggest coverups in nuclear history. FirstEnergy has paid a record $33.5 million in fines.
Siemaszko's supervisor, David Geisen of DePere, Wis., was convicted on three similar counts in October, 2007. He was fined $7,500 and sentenced May 1 by Judge Katz to three years probation, four months of house arrest, and 200 hours of community service.
The NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board today is to hear its fifth day of testimony at a separate hearing in which Geisen is trying to get authorization to resume working in the nuclear industry. A five-year ban the NRC imposed on him expires in January, 2011. That hearing is at the agency's headquarters in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md.
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