Peers Stunned by Indictment of Lab Director from Upper St. Clair
21 November 2013
By Timothy Puko and Brian Bowling
Researchers and scientists said Wednesday they were shocked at the
indictment of a federal lab director from Upper St. Clair.
Anthony Cugini, 54, is widely known as a technocrat, a
straight-shooting scientist in a post that's often politicized —
director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory — several
local scientists said. Many considered him a friend and said they
had no inclination he was under federal grand jury investigation.
The grand jury indicted him Tuesday on a charge of obstruction of
justice. He had other people lie to investigators and destroy or
hide computer files and records to protect himself from an
internal investigation about whether he misused his office,
“I feel terrible about it. I know the guy and really, really like
him,” said Dick Winschel, director of research services at Consol
Energy Inc. in Cecil. “He's been a friend, a personal friend.”
Other researchers in the region echoed Winschel's comments but
declined to be named in stories, citing the criminal
investigation. Officials at the laboratory's offices in South Park
and Morgantown declined to comment or did not return phone calls.
Cugini has not returned messages. He is scheduled to appear in
court in December.
Federal court documents contain no details about the allegations
of impropriety that started the investigation. He was charged with
destroying evidence between Sept. 4 and 24, a crime that comes
with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, 3 years probation and
a $250,000 fine.
A spokeswoman at the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector
General referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office in
Pittsburgh, saying it was involved in the investigation from the
start. Officials there declined to comment.
Cugini has a sparse public legal record. There are no personal
civil lawsuits against him and no state charges more serious than
running a red light in Bridgeville in 2010.
His professional record is extensive, with his time as laboratory
director capping a 26-year career at the agency that began when he
became a research chemical engineer. He was named a fellow of the
American Chemical Society in July and won the Management Division
Award for 2011 from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers,
according to government news releases.
The institute highlighted the laboratory's support for chemical
engineers by creating partnerships with the lab, industries and
universities, the Department of Energy said in announcing the
award in 2011. He created that key home for those partnerships —
the Regional University Alliance, a collaboration including
Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State University and the
University of Pittsburgh — when he led the lab's Office of
Research and Development, the post he held before his promotion to
Cugini received three degrees in chemical engineering from Pitt,
the last in 1981, according to his agency biography. He worked at
Pentek Inc. and Gulf Oil Corp. before joining the lab in 1987,
according to the biography.
As director starting in 2010, he managed 1,500 employees at
facilities in five states. The lab has more than $1 billion in
energy research projects. One of its highest profile projects is
an effort to help coal and power companies capture and store the
carbon burn-off that now commonly floats into the atmosphere,
trapping heat and helping to cause climate change.
The charges of misuse of office were a big surprise, especially
considering how vigilant the laboratory is about any perception of
waste or impropriety, said Tom Reed, managing director for
marketing and community outreach at Catalyst Connection, a
manufacturers consortium. His group co-hosts an annual conference
with the laboratory, which ruled out any corporate sponsorships
from companies that receive its research grants to avoid any
conflicts of interests, he said.
“We find them to be very careful stewards of funding and how
things were promoted,” Reed said. “They were very rigid and
careful on these kinds of things.”
Timothy Puko and Brian Bowling are staff writers for Trib Total
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