SANTA FE, N.M. — Three former employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory are asking Damon Martinez, U.S. attorney for New Mexico, to reopen an old fraud case at the lab and look into the 2003 death of a former lab deputy director they maintain is suspicious.
The three are Glenn Walp and Steve Doran, who investigated bogus purchases that led to two indictments, and retired lab whistleblower Chuck Montaño, whose new book has renewed interest in the case.
According to their letter to Martinez released by Nuclear Watch New Mexico, one reason for a new probe is that the Department of Energy recently decided to put the $2 billion lab operations contract out for competitive bids after current contractor Los Alamos National Security LLC — which includes Bechtel and the University of California — failed to get adequate performance reviews.
“Our concern is that a full and complete investigation is needed in order to clean house and help 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,” says the letter.
Walp, Doran and Montaño have pushed on several fronts for renewed investigation of the purchasing scandal that rocked the lab in 2002, maintaining there’s evidence the malfeasance went much higher in the LANL hierarchy than just two employees who were charged. Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have turned their information over to the Justice Department and DOE’s inspector general. The Washington-based Project on Government Oversight also is calling for another look.
Walp and Montaño met with Martinez’s predecessor as U.S. attorney, Kenneth Gonzales, in 2012 on the same issues.
In the wake of the fraud scandal, at least 18 senior LANL managers were dismissed, demoted or transferred and former LANL director John Browne resigned.
Ex-police officers Walp and Doran were fired from LANL’s Office of Security Inquiries as they were investigating the bogus buys. Walp and Doran filed suit and received substantial settlements (Walp’s was $930,000) and an admission that they were wrongfully terminated.
The two people arrested and sentenced to prison were facilities team leader Peter Bussolini and purchaser Scott Alexander. They acknowledged costing the lab as much as $200,000, although lab investigators estimated the fraud amounted to much more.
Montaño, Walp and Doran focus on former lab deputy director Richard Burick, who retired in 2002 and died a year later from what Los Alamos police said was a self-inflicted gunshot in a ski area parking lot.
The whistleblowers call the death “alleged suicide” and say there were connections between Bussolini and Burick not known when the lab fraud was investigated, including statements from former lab employees that were taken in 2010 as part of Montaño’s own whistleblower lawsuit against the lab. One said in a deposition Burick once told him that, when he retired, Burick planned to turn a “camp” he owned into a hunting lodge and that Bussolini would help run it.
Another said in an affidavit given “under penalty of perjury” that, in the early 2000s, when discussing retirement plans, “Mr. Bussolini revealed his intent to participate in the management of a ranch and hunting operation with Deputy Director Richard Burick.”
A woman who answered the phone at Bussolini’s house last year told the Journal there “was no connection” between Burick and Bussolini and that the case has been “rehashed and rehashed.”
The items said to have been fraudulently purchased included TV sets, power tools, night-vision binoculars, an electric gate opener, tires and shock absorbers, high-end barbecue grills, CB radios, picnic tables, and hunting and outdoor gear like camping equipment and military knives – items that Montano, Walp and Doran say could have been used in a hunting or ranching business.
Walp and Dorn maintain the gun found with Burick’s body was in an unusual position that can’t be duplicated. The state autopsy report that ruled Burick’s death a suicide said: “It is reported that he may have suffered from recurrent prostate cancer and may have been the subject of an investigation related to his job.” The lab, though, has said there was no probe of Burick.
His widow told the Los Alamos Monitor in 2011 she was certain Burick’s death was suicide.