2 Tetra Tech employees sentenced to prison for falsifying soil records in SF Shipyard cleanup

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) Two former supervisors who oversaw the testing of radiation contaminated soil at the decommissioned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard have pleaded guilty to falsifying reports and have each been sentenced to eight months in prison, federal prosecutors announced in San Francisco Thursday.

Stephen Rolfe and Jason Hubbard both pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco in the spring of 2017 to one count of falsification of records, but the cases were kept under seal until they were sentenced.

Rolfe, 65, of Bradenton, Florida, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Donato in January, and Hubbard, 48, of Boulder City, Nevada, received a similar eight-month term from Donato on Wednesday.

The 500-acre shipyard in southeast San Francisco was closed as a Navy facility in 1974 and is now slated for housing, office and industrial development.

The site was exposed to radiation contamination when it was used between 1946 and 1969 as a radiological defense laboratory to study the effects of radiation on animals and materials and to decontaminate ships used in atomic bomb testing.

Rolfe and Hubbard worked for Tetra Tech EC, the Pasadena-based company hired by the Navy to test for and clean up the contamination.

Tetra Tech has come under fire amid allegations of defective testing.

A preliminary Navy investigation last September concluded there was evidence of data manipulation or falsification on nearly half of the soil samples taken from the site. 

The investigation also found that 49 percent of samples for one parcel at the site was suspect, and 15 percent was suspect for another parcel. 

In December, a second review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two state agencies found more widespread falsification. That review concluded 97 percent and 90 percent of the samples from the two parcels were suspect. 

Rolfe and Hubbard supervised technicians who selected, bagged and labeled samples of soil from designated areas for laboratory testing for radiation contamination.

Both admitted in their written plea agreements that on occasions during 2012, they knew that uncontaminated or less contaminated soil from other areas was placed in the sample bags for the designated areas, and that they knew the attached records were falsified.

Hubbard said he once drove his company truck to another area, filled a five-gallon bucket with clean serpentinite soil, emptied the sample bags from designated areas, refilled them with the clean dirt and kept the original markings on the sample bags. 

Rolfe said he instructed the technicians on his team to get "clean dirt" from outside the survey units on approximately 20 occasions in 2012 and that he either knew the records were false or falsified them himself.

Hubbard did not say why he substituted the false samples.

But Rolfe said in his March 14, 2017, plea agreement that "my motivation came from pressure applied by the Tetra Tech supervisors."

Rolfe said in the agreement, "One told me on multiple occasions to 'get the hell out of that area,' in reference to a particular survey unit that was not testing clean.

"Another told me on more than one occasion that we were 'not remediating the whole goddam site.'"

Rolfe said an assistant project manager "told me on numerous occasions to 'get clean dirt.'"

"I understood these statement as a direction to go outside the appropriate survey unit and get dirt from other areas that was known to be clean, that is not containing excessive levels of radiation," Rolfe said in the agreement.

Rolfe also agreed in the plea bargain to cooperate with federal prosecutors and testify truthfully in any grand jury, court or other proceeding as requested by the prosecutors.

Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse said in a statement, "This sentence reflects our commitment to ensure that bogus reports intended to deceive the protectors of our environment will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Tetra Tech also issued a statement Thursday, saying, "Tetra Tech is fully supportive of the actions taken by the Department of Justice against the two individuals for falsifying reports at Hunters Point.

"Tetra Tech vehemently rejects this type of activity and will pursue all legal actions available to it to recover the harm that the actions of these former employees have caused to Tetra Tech, the Navy, and the local community. 

"We have zero tolerance for violations of established protocols and procedures on any project site," the company said.

In another statement last week, the firm's chief engineer, Bill Brownlie, said, "We want to assure the residents and neighbors at Hunters Point that what we did was proper and followed all Navy and statutory guidelines, protocols and work plans."

The company offered to pay for retesting at the site by an independent third-party contractor.

Rolfe has begun serving his sentence and Hubbard was ordered by Donato to self-surrender on July 9 for his prison term, according to U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Abraham Simmons.