Whistleblowers once again request investigation of fraud at LANL

On May 22, 2015 Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) whistleblowers Glenn Walp, Steve Doran, and Chuck Montaño officially asked the New Mexico Congressional delegation to reopen a LANL fraud investigation. They claimed that additional information had come forward that had not been presented to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that initially conducted an investigation.

The fraud claims are laid out in Montano’s book, Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths: A Whistleblower’s Diary, published last year. In early 2002 two former law enforcement officers, Glenn Walp and Steve Doran, were hired by LANL to look into mismanagement and thefts that had been occurring throughout the 1990s. They soon began to investigate, along with the FBI, a massive procurement fraud case. Walp and Doran discovered a huge cache of stolen merchandise in a vacant Cold War bunker at the Lab. In November they were also tipped off to the location of more stolen merchandise but were fired the next day: “The day Glenn and Steve were escorted off laboratory premises, the investigation they were pursing came to an abrupt end. . . . Since people rarely lost their jobs at LANL, what happened . . . would be inconceivable were it not for the fact that they were trying to fix problems institutional leaders didn’t even want to admit existed” (Chuck Montaño). Walp and Doran filed whistleblower lawsuits against Lab management, which eventually settled with them both, and Walp wrote a book about the experience: Implosion at Los Alamos: How Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Ups Jeopardize America’s Nuclear Weapons Secrets.

The Lab employees who were implicated in the thefts, Peter Bussolini and Scott Alexander, were terminated (and eventually prosecuted) in October of 2002 but what proved especially shocking was their connection to former LANL Deputy Director of Operations Richard Burick, who was found dead with a gun shot wound in the parking lot of the Los Alamos Ski Area in January of 2003.

On January 12 of this year The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a non-partisan organization that investigates governmental corruption and mismanagement, ran an in- depth story, referencing Montano’s book, that laid out the details of this connection between the 2002 fraud scheme, perpetrated by Bussolini and Alexander, and Burick, their direct supervisor. Burick, who retired in January of 2002 after a tenure plagued by security leaks and the prosecution of Win Ho Lee on false accusations of spying (Burick was directly involved in Lee’s prosecution), also had a personal relationship with Peter Bussolini; they planned to operate a hunting lodge on land Burick had recently purchased. Much of the stolen merchandise was equipment that could be useful in that kind of enterprise.

The three whistleblowers have now submitted a letter to Damon Martinez, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, asking that his office continue the investigation into the death of Burick, which was declared a suicide. Doran has testified that the circumstances surrounding the death are suspicious, and all three ask that the U.S. Attorney investigate how Burick’s death is related to the procurement fraud.

Part of the impetus for the new request is that the Department of Energy announced that it will not be renewing the Los Alamos National Security (LANS) management contract after it ends in 2017. LANS, which is a consortium of the private corporations Bechtel, Babcock and Wilcox Company, URS, AECOM, and the University of California, after years of cost overruns, mismanagement, and the disastrous WIPP leak in 2014 caused by improperly sealed waste canisters, finally received unsatisfactory performance evaluations by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the DOE sub agency that oversees our nuclear labs.

Chuck Montaño told La Jicarita that Senator Tom Udall’s office had informed him it had forwarded the May 22 letter to the Department of Energy Inspector General and the Department of Justice. When Montaño requested that Udall’s office provide him with the names of contacts at these agencies he instead received an e-mail from Udall counsel Matt Nelson saying that he was waiting to hear from the DOJ regarding the status of the request. Montaño asked Nelson to keep in touch with him via e-mail but he hasn’t heard anything from him since their initial July correspondence. When La Jicarita called Udall’s office and requested to speak with Nelson, the office told me that staff was not allowed to speak with reporters, that any communication must go through the Communications Office. Jennifer Talhelm, Communications Director, sent me this statement: “Senator Udall’s office has forwarded Mr. Montano’s concerns to the Department of Energy Inspector General and the Department of Justice asking them to review it and take any necessary action.”

We’ll have to wait and see, once again, if either Washington or the New Mexico U.S. Attorney will take another look at this deeply disturbing case that leaves many questions unanswered. As the three whistleblowers state in their letter to Martinez, “Our concern is that a full and complete investigation is needed in order to clean house and ensure that one of the premier nuclear weapons labs long plagued by scandal is properly managed in the future, free of any possible reoccurrence of fraud and corruption.”

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