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Rocky Flats Workers Made Gifts, Gadgets on the Job

August 26, 1987

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) _ Employees at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant spent time on the job crafting a spiral staircase, a grandfather clock and other items, ignored by supervisors for 17 years, according to a published report.

The extracurricular work, worth more than $1 million, did not end until 1985, when project engineer J. David Navarette blew the whistle, the Boulder Daily Camera said in a copyright story Sunday.

The report brought demands this week by the United Steelworkers union for a congressional investigation and removal of Rockwell International Corp. as contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy at Rocky Flats.

Jim Kelly, president of union Local 8031, which represents about half the 5,800 Rocky Flats employees, said, ″They’ve fired a lot of people there for far less.″

The staff of Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., asked the Energy Department for a full briefing.

Rocky Flats manufactures plutonium parts for nuclear weapons. The skilled workers in Building 881, also known as ‴The Model Shop,″ make precise replicas of nuclear weapons and do other research and development projects.

But the Camera reported that the workers also spent many work hours using expensive scientific materials to make plaques, medallions and even a $65,000 wine press and still and a $10,000 grandfather clock.

The FBI visited the shop in 1985, and the matter was taken before a federal grand jury, but no indictments were issued, the Camera reported. The Energy Department’s inspector general’s office reportedly is still investigating.

A seven-month investigation by the Camera found that thousands of plaques and jewelry items made in the shop ended up in with department managers and employees, and with corporate officials doing business with Rockwell.

The Camera said some goods were paid for by skimming government contracts or through a violation of federal purchasing policies.

Warren L. Rooker, who ran the shop for 17 years, had an elaborate suspended oak and birch spiral staircase made there, the newspaper said. It was taken out of the plant piece by piece in a false-bottom suitcase, and FBI agents discovered it in his home in 1985, according to the Camera.

Navarette said he decided to report the activities after he was ordered by Rooker to design a set of plans for Rooker’s retirement home near Farmington, N.M.

″The extent of the fraud, theft and abuse of government funds and facilities in this case is limited by only one thing - your imagination,″ said Navarette.

Rooker declined to discuss the matter with the Camera. His attorney, Joseph Saint-Veltri, said, ″Keep in mind, as you might recall from ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Kahayyam,’ that ’The leaf turns yellow, but with the consent of the whole tree.‴

Rockwell’s chief legal counsel, John F. McNett, referred questions to the Energy Department’s public affairs office in Albuquerque, N.M., where officials declined comment.

Jack Vandenberg, a department public affairs officer in Washington, said, ″Even if the goods were (of little value) the contract would say, ’No, it is improper.‴

Ronald Berger, assistant general counsel with the General Accounting Office in Washington, described The Model Shop’s activities as ″contract fraud.″

The Camera reported that some of the smaller items made at the plant contained expensive scientific materials.

One item used neodymium, a glass used in laser programs, it said. A rod of the material the size of a cigarette costs $300 to $600, according to Hoyha Glass Co. of Fremont, Calif., which supplies the rods to the government.

The wine press and still were shipped to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, which orders through Rockwell’s Futures Systems Department, the newspaper said.

Lawrence Livermore legal counsel Bill Degarmo said officials were using it as a chemical filter, not to make wine.

United Tool & Material, a Denver supplier of jewelry accessories, sold Rocky Flats parts for earrings, belt buckles, tie tacks, stick pins and sterling jewelry mounts starting in the late 1970s, the Camera said.

″I never understood what they needed these things for,″ said Marol Hansen, a company manager.

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