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Published: Friday, 1/9/2009

Conviction upheld for Davis-Besse nuclear engineer

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Siemaszko Siemaszko
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Judge David Katz of U.S. District Court has upheld the guilty verdicts against Andrew Siemaszko, paving the way for the last of three men to be tried for the Davis-Besse cover-up to be sentenced Feb. 6.

The judge acknowledged that Siemaszko's conviction was "a close case," but said he found "sufficient circumstantial evidence upon which a reasonable jury could have based a finding of knowledge and intent."

Siemaszko, who lives in Spring, Texas, was convicted in August on three of five felony charges of deliberately misleading the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about the nuclear plant. He faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

His former supervisor, David Geisen of DePere, Wis., was convicted on three similar counts in October, 2007. Geisen was fined $7,500 on May 1 and sentenced by Judge Katz to three years probation, four months of house arrest, and 200 hours of community service.

Contractor Rodney N. Cook of Millington, Tenn., was acquitted in 2007 of all four counts.

The trio worked at the Ottawa County plant in the fall of 2001, when NRC administrators decided not to issue the government's first emergency shutdown of a nuclear plant since 1987.

Unknown at the time, NRC staff members had correctly diagnosed a dangerous situation.

When Davis-Besse was shut down in early 2002, officials learned its reactor head was weeks away from blowing apart and allowing radioactive steam to form in the containment building that encloses the nuclear reactor.

An accident of that magnitude could have led to formation of radioactive steam, something that hasn't occurred in the United States since the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor in 1979.

NRC administrators used flawed documents as its basis for letting the plant operate at least six weeks longer than some agency staff members had wanted.

The decision led to investigations on Capitol Hill.

The Justice Department called the case one of the biggest coverups in U.S. nuclear history.

FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, the plant's owner and operator, paid a record $33.5 million in fines.

Siemaszko, whom some activists hailed as a whistleblower for trying to get the company to clean the corroded reactor head, maintained that FirstEnergy forced him into a job he was unqualified to perform.

His attorneys, Chuck Boss of Maumee and Billie Garde of Washington, say the utility and the government used him as a scapegoat.

At a Dec. 11 hearing, his attorneys sought an acquittal or new trial on the grounds he was oblivious to errors in key documents that went to the NRC.

The judge ruled that one of the government's star witnesses, Prasoon Goyal of Toledo, who avoided prosecution by agreeing to testify against the other three, delivered testimony "that appears to the Court to be damning to Defendant's position."

Judge Katz also cited the testimony of Eric Calhoun, a federal investigator who claimed to have coaxed an unrecorded confession from Siemaszko.

Siemaszko's attorneys disputed Mr. Calhoun's claims and questioned if a language barrier existed.

Siemaszko emigrated to the United States from Poland.

Tom Ballantine, one of two assistant U.S. attorneys who presented evidence against Siemaszko, declined comment on the judge's ruling. He said at the hearing the verdicts should stand.

Ms. Garde said yesterday the defense will consider an appeal.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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