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Originally published Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 8:03 PM

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Settlement near with Hanford contractor over alleged timecard fraud

The lawsuit claims the former Hanford contractor CH2M Hill knowingly presented false claims to the U.S. Department of Energy for overtime payments for more than a decade. No details of a tentative settlement have been made public.

Tri-City Herald

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The federal government and former Hanford contractor CH2M Hill Hanford Group are close to reaching a settlement in a civil lawsuit over alleged timecard fraud, according to court documents.

The two parties filed a report Friday in federal court on the status of a tentative settlement. No details have been made public.

The lawsuit claims the contractor knowingly presented false claims to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for overtime payments for more than a decade.

The CH2M Hill board of directors has voted to approve a proposed settlement, the status report said, and federal attorneys have received permission to proceed. The two sides are working on the final language.

Last fall, the federal government took over a civil lawsuit filed by former CH2M Hill worker Carl Schroeder on behalf of the United States under the False Claims Act. The act allows individuals to sue on behalf of the government and collect a portion of any damages awarded.

Schroeder is one of eight former CH2M Hill workers who have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington to conspiracy to commit timecard fraud.

The eight admitted to claiming a full eight hours of work when they were assigned to overtime shifts after their regular workdays or work weeks ended, even though they worked fewer than eight hours of overtime.

Schroeder filed the claim in federal court in 2009, but the case was sealed until last fall.

DOE reimbursed CH2M Hill for the wages it paid to workers at the Hanford tank farms. The company's management contract for that project expired in 2008.

The farms store 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste in underground tanks until they can be treated for disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium at Hanford for the nation's nuclear-weapons program.

The lawsuit also accuses CH2M Hill of "upcharging" in a second way by diverting routine work that should have been performed on regular shifts to overtime shifts, during which workers received time-and-a-half or double-time pay.

Almost all of the 400 to 500 CH2M Hill employees who participated in upcharging had the consent of supervisors and other management, the lawsuit alleges.

CH2M Hill said in September that it brought up concerns about timecard practices at the Hanford tank farms to the federal government as early as 2004 and asked for help in investigating.

At the time, the company said it was optimistic that a fair resolution could be reached once the facts were known.

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