NJ AG Holtec Sanctions Dismissed by Firm Echo Previous Concerns

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton

As we wade into the 2024 campaign it’s important to be mindful that America’s faith in our foundational institutions like Congress, the courts, law enforcement, big business, even organized religion have taken a significant hit in recent years, hitting a new low in June of 2021, months after the violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Last year, Gallup recorded significant declines in public confidence in 11 of the 16 institutions it tracks annually, with the presidency and Supreme Court suffering the most,” according to Gallup’s July 2023 assessment.  “The share of Americans expressing a great deal or fair amount of confidence in these fell 15 and 11 percentage points, respectively.”

No doubt, Democrats would blame former President Donald Trump’s around the clock efforts to delegitimize the 2020 election as well as the efforts by prosecutors and the courts to hold him accountable for a long list of alleged corrupt acts ranging from sexual assault to insurrection. But as it turns out Trump’s dismissive attitude to law enforcement when it’s targeted him is by no means unique and can be problematic whether it be in Washington or Trenton.

Consider the response from Holtec, the privately held nuclear industry multinational, with long time ties to George Norcross III, to Attorney General Mathew J. Platkin’s announcement of Holtec’s deferred prosecution agreement. Usually when a corporation enters into such a deal to pay $5 million in penalties to settle a “lengthy criminal investigation” they express some sort of humble contrition which is usually choreographed before the deal is made public.

But that’s not how Holtec, a privately held nuclear industry multinational, chose to respond to Attorney General Mathew J. Platkin’s announcement about their settlement.

HOLTEC BLASTS AG

“Under threat of unfounded retaliatory criminal prosecution Holtec International agreed to settle a dispute with the State of New Jersey regarding a tax incentive applied for in 2018,” said the company’s statement. “Avoiding protracted litigation through this resolution allows Holtec and its over 500  employees in New Jersey to continue their important work on the forefront of the green-energy  revolution in America and beyond.”

Holtec denied any misconduct and asserted the “settlement contemplates a payment less than the estimated cost of litigating the matter with the State while proactively resolving any threat of criminal proceedings.”  So much for re-enforcing the faith in law enforcement. It certainly attempts to cut New Jersey’s Attorney General down to size as a petty and conniving nuisance. So much for helping to build trust in law enforcement.

According to the press release issued by the New Jersey Attorney General Platkin, in November of 2018, Holtec and SRE, a related company, submitted documents  to the EDA that “had been created in October 2018 and dated July 2018”  that misrepresented their eligibility qualifications  for $1 million in Angel Investor Tax Credits.

“These agreements reinforce our commitment to protecting New Jersey’s taxpayers and ensuring fairness and integrity in our economic system by preventing companies from defrauding the State’s tax incentive programs,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Today, we are sending a clear message: no matter how big and powerful you are, if you lie to the State for financial gain, we will hold you accountable – period.”

“This multimillion-dollar settlement serves as notice to other companies and individuals that attempts to exploit the State’s tax incentive program will be investigated and addressed,” said Office of Public Integrity and Accountability Executive Director Thomas Eicher. “Taxpayers should be confident in knowing that attempts to manipulate the system will be met with firm consequences.”

“The agreement, which also covers a real estate company owned by Holtec founder and CEO Krishna Singh, came after a lengthy criminal investigation that discovered Holtec had submitted false information to the state in seeking the Angel tax breaks” reported Jeff Pillets, with NJ Spotlight, the non-profit news source. “Holtec’s use of misinformation for private gain, as detailed by the state attorney general, closely parallels allegations that have followed the company for years as it sought public subsidies to finance international ambitions in the nuclear field.”

The NJ Spotlight report continued. “Over the past half-decade, Holtec has moved aggressively forward from its manufacturing roots to take ownership of closed nuclear plants that are in the process of being retired. The company runs decommissioning operations at the retired Oyster Creek generating station along Barnegat Bay at Lacey Township, and three other sites, including New York’s Indian Point and the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts.”

JUST GETTING EVEN?

Is it possible that the State of New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General was just getting even for Holtec winning in court and forcing the state to make good on the $260 million subsidy package it wanted to suspend? Holtec seems to be suggesting just that.

In its statement Holtec recounted how it sued for breach of contract and prevailed in Superior Court and when the State appealed, a three-judge panel at the Appellate Division last November unanimously ruled in Holtec’s favor.

“The appellate court said that no matter how ‘strongly motivated [the State is] to make amends for its past lack of diligence . . . rescinding tax credits to a company that lawfully fulfilled its agreement to make substantial investments in Camden—an economically disadvantaged city— would hardly be equitable considering all relevant circumstances,’” the firm asserted.

Back in May, the NRC granted Holtec the license to construct and operate a private sector radioactive waste dump in New Mexico, the first of its kind in the nation.

”This is a bad idea, full stop,” wrote New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard. “Placing a nuclear storage facility in the heart of oil and gas operations is a recipe for ecological disaster and unnecessarily puts New Mexicans at risk. Since being elected Land Commissioner, I have been opposed to making New Mexico the permanent home for nuclear waste because of the threats to New Mexicans’ health, safety, and economic development.  We shouldn’t let unelected bureaucrats in Washington jam through this shaky proposal that will bring massive profits to an out-of-state company with a troubled safety record, while putting our people and environment in harm’s way.”

Last year, Holtec’s plans to release millions of gallons of radioactive water in the Hudson River from the Indian Point complex sparked a bi-partisan uproar in the New York State legislature leading to the passage of the Save the Hudson bill banning the practice.

“The Hudson River is one of New York’s landmark natural treasures, and it’s critical we stand together to protect it for generations to come,” Governor Hochul said when she signed the bill in August. “My administration remains committed to protecting the economic vitality of the region and working closely with local communities who have advocated so passionately for this cause.”

Objectively, how big a deal is the New Jersey settlement? It’s hard to say since we have no idea about Holtec International’s actual financials. Unlike with a publicly traded company, subject to SEC transparency and disclosure regulations, there’s no way to know what the company’s bottom line is nor who benefits from it. What should set off alarm bells is that the company has government contracts with agencies entrusted with regulating nuclear power around the world and has successfully masked its financials from public scrutiny.

PRIVATE PROFITS VS. PUBLIC RISKS

The stakes are high when it comes to nuclear power, think Chernobyl and Fukushima.  When it comes to this sector, the government’s role as regulator and guarantor is on behalf of the entire human population whose well-being, whose very survival, hinges on the integrity of every participant in the industry of which Holtec is a global player.

InsiderNJ asked international tax law expert James Henry, a Yale Global Justice fellow, what he knew about Holtec. Henry referenced Holtec’s historic ties with SNC Lavalin, a Quebec based multi-national, multi-billion billion dollar engineering firm at the center of a global criminal conspiracy when in 2015 prosecutors charged it with resorting to bribery to win government contract from the Libyan government under Muammar al-Qaddafi. In 2013, it was suspended for a decade from doing any  World Bank projects.

The scandal almost brought down Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. When quizzed about his administration’s alleged meddling in the company’s pursuit of a deferred prosecution deal at a town hall in March 2019, Trudeau said he was concerned about protecting close to 9,000 jobs linked to the tainted firm.

In December of 2019, SNC Lavalin pled guilty to one fraud charge, admitted it had bribed Qaddafi’s son Saadi, for a decade, paid a $211 million fine and agreed to three years of probation.  Reuters reported at the time, the company’s lawyer told reporters the deal permitted the firm to be “free to bid as normal” on international contracts.

Henry notes that Holtec provided an important entree  for the tarnished Quebec multinational into the U.S. market with a growing list of aging nuclear power plants. InsiderNJ asked Henry how significant New Jersey’s enforcement action was against Holtec.

“It’s a great complement to Holtec’s ability to bob and weave—it sounds like they skated from New Jersey’s  criminal investigation and who knows how significant the $5 million fine is since nobody knows how big the company is because it’s owned by two mysterious trusts based in Florida and there’s absolutely no public financial disclosure,” Henry said.

In a response to Henry’s analysis, Holtec’s spokesperson Patrick O’Brien said his company formed a Joint Venture in 2018 with SNC Lavalin which ended in 2022 when it “cut business ties” with the Canadian multinational. As far as Holtec’s ownership, O’Brien wrote in an email “we are a privately held company that has passed the high bar set for by the nuclear regulatory committee to own nuclear plants that specify both technical and financial resources to hold such licenses. “

A review of some of the company’s most recent  NRC’s regulatory filings includes the rationale for redactions because “public disclosure of this information would create substantial financial harm to the competitive position of Holtec and their affiliates by disclosing their internal financial and commercial information.”

PREVIOUS QUESTIONS ON MAJOR TVA OMISSION

Under  a headline “Holtec paying $5 million fine, but ducks charges in NJ probe of tax incentives” WNYC’s Nancy Solomon reported the Angel Investor award was a “much smaller program than one that awarded Holtec $260 million in 2014 for building a manufacturing plant in Camden, the second-largest tax break in New Jersey history.”

“Holtec is one of 13 Camden companies connected to South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross that received large tax breaks during then-Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and were later investigated by a task force commissioned by Gov. Phil Murphy. In 2019, WNYC and ProPublica reported that $1.1 billion worth of tax breaks went to companies tied to Norcross and his brother Philip. Norcross, who had a close working relationship with Christie, is a member of Holtec’s board of directors.”

The $260 million EDA tax incentives helped fund Holtec’s controversial facility in Camden.

Back in 2019, WNYC and ProPublica broke the story that Holtec’s application for the massive subsidy included a sworn certification that falsely represented the company had never “been barred  from doing business with a state or federal agency” when in reality it had  back in 2010 by the Tennessee Valley Authority for its role in a kickback scandal that resulted in the conviction of a TVA official for failure “to disclose a payment from a contractor that originated with Holtec.”

It was a big deal for the TVA. According to the  TVA’s Inspector General at the time the scandal was so serious it was necessary for the agency to create “a suspension and debarment officer to review the matter, which led to the first debarment action at TVA.”

The TVA’s IG report continued. “Holtec International, Inc., received a sixty-day debarment (October 12 through December 12, 2010); and, by agreement with TVA, will pay a $2 million administrative fee to TVA; appoint a corporate governance officer and an independent monitor (at the contractor’s expense); implement a code of conduct, to include training for all employees, executives, directors, and officers; add three noncompany members to its board of directors and sign an administrative agreement ensuring compliance to the above terms.”

In 2019, Politico reported that Holtec International CEO and president Krishna P. Singh had been “questioned as part of a criminal investigation” at the TVA undermining the company’s defense that the errant NJ EDA filing was a mere “oversight.”

In addition to Norcross, a one time member of the Democratic National Committee, the Holtec leadership roster includes former Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ),  as director emeritus. Norcross’s brother is Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat who has represented the 1st district since 2014. As a member of Congress he has been an ardent booster of Holtec, whose CEO Singh contributed $10,000 to Norcross’s 2014 campaign, according to ProPublica.

Is it possible that the State of New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General was just getting even for Holtec ultimately forcing the state to make good on the $260 million subsidy package it wanted to suspend?

In its statement Holtec recounted how it sued for breach of contract and prevailed in Superior Court and when the State appealed, a three-judge panel at the  Appellate Division last November unanimously ruled in Holtec’s favor.

“The appellate court said that no matter how ‘strongly motivated [the State is] to make amends  for its past lack of diligence . . . rescinding tax credits to a company that lawfully fulfilled its  agreement to make substantial investments in Camden—an economically disadvantaged city— would hardly be equitable considering all relevant circumstances.”

This past June, Holtec’s former CFO Kevin O’Rourke sued his former employer,  for “attempting to coerce him to submit false and misleading information to be shared with a major investor, which allegedly involved hundreds of millions of dollars. The company then fired him when he refused,” reported the Asbury Park Press.

“We have thoroughly investigated these allegations and they are entirely without merit,” Holtec said in a statement to the newspaper. “We look forward to our day in court.”

GLOBAL DESIGNS

Holtec is a bold outfit looking to help reboot the world’s nuclear power industry with a new generation of  the SMR-300,  “a small modular pressurized water nuclear power plant,” according to Holtec’s website that the firm maintains will help satisfy the planet’s hunger for power while addressing the climate crisis brought on by our addiction to fossil fuels.

“Informed by over six decades of lessons learned from reactor operations, SMR-300 is designed to be an extremely safe power plant,” the company proclaims. “Every conceivable catastrophic event, including severe cyclones (hurricanes or typhoons), tsunamis, flood, earthquakes, fire and crashing aircraft, has been considered in SMR-300’s design basis and appropriate features incorporated to ensure that it will withstand these events without damage to itself, nor impose any risk to public health and safety.”

“Critics of nuclear power, however, contend that small modular reactors suffer from many of the same problems as large reactors, most notably safety issues and the unresolved problem of what to do with long-lived radioactive waste,” writes Lois Parshley, in Yale’s Environment360, published by Yale University School of the Environment. “And opponents say that even in a smaller form, nuclear power is expensive — it’s one of the costliest forms of energy, requiring substantial government subsidies to build and run, not to mention insure.”

All the more reason for complete financial transparency from companies like Holtec who stand to profit while all of humanity relies on their representations.

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2 responses to “NJ AG Holtec Sanctions Dismissed by Firm Echo Previous Concerns”

  1. Wow!!!! Sounds like what the State of New Jersey is doing to its taxpayers–Ripping them off and not providing any safety or benefit to the taxpayers. Cases in point: Gasoline tax increase to $2 BILLION RAMMED DOWN nj TAXPAYERS’ THROATS to pay to fix roads and bridges. Money is nowhere to be found. Just look at the decrepit state of NJ’s roads and bridges. Another $4 BILLION to pay for illegal aliens as part of Governor Phil KNUCKLEHEAD Murphy’s “sanctuary state” nonsense (where he now says he was only kidding about “sanctuary state” and doesn’t want illegal aliens parked in NJ–it’s called NIMBY). This $4 BILLION for illegal aliens is taxpayer fraud since illegals are not citizens or residents of the State, have put nothing into the State, and are nothing more than parasites. Yet, the Governor and Democrat-Communist Legislature continues to promote this fraud on the taxpayers. For what reason???? Votes???

    And, what about the Senior property tax rebate of $10,000 per year (known as the STAY Program)???? That is taxpayers’ monies being used for illegal aliens. Governor KNUCKLEHEAD said that $10,000 was too much, and wanted it reduced to $6,500.00 annually. Taking $2 BILLION from paying illegal aliens would have covered the total amount of the $10,000 Senior property tax rebate. Governor KNUCKLEHEAD says it’s too much and would reduce the amount of funding for ILLEGAL ALIENS–which constitutes a myriad of crimes in and of itself. This is yet another fraud by the Democrat-Communist State Government to give ILLEGAL ALIENS a/k/a criminals, thieves, welfare cheats, social security cheats, healthcare cheats, murderers, rapists, muggers, etc. , free taxpayers’ money for doing nothing. Illegal Aliens are getting a free $6,000 PER MONTH stipend, tax free, from the government to stay in New Jersey. How many New Jerseyans are making $6,000 PER MONTH (or $72,000 PER YEAR) TAX FREE?????????????

    And, the Administration and incompetent tyrant Attorney General complain about a company legally obtaining funding from the State????? What a joke. There are more important things that the New Jersey Government and Attorney General need to be doing like removing ALL ILLEGAL ALIENS from New Jersey and taking the $4 BILLION spent on them annually and returning it to New Jersey property taxpayers!!!!!!!

  2. I dunno… generally, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you wouldn’t agree to pay a $5 million settlement right off the bat “just to avoid litigation.” You’ve got multiple steps in the criminal process (eg. Motion to dismiss) to get criminal charges thrown out. Glad our AG is holding big companies accountable, even if they’re companies doing important work for the environment.

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