DuPont suggests ‘whistleblower’ motivated by money interests _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Dupont plant on LA-44 in Burnside, La..

Defense attorneys for DuPont on Wednesday emphasized whistleblower Jeffrey M. Simoneaux’s financial interest in the lawsuit he filed alleging the company covered up toxic gas leaks, suggesting he resisted following DuPont’s leak reporting procedures and repair plans.

Through their cross-examination, DuPont’s lawyers tried to rebut Simoneaux’s previous testimony that he realized in late March 2012 that plant management was not reporting leaks. The company’s lawyers also maintained the leaks were not as extensive as Simoneaux contended they were.

Simoneaux, a former senior operator at the plant for 22 years who left the company in August 2012, sued DuPont under the False Claims Act, alleging the company hid the leaks to avoid paying fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and retaliated against him when he tried to report them.

In his suit and testimony this week in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge that included extensive use of videos, Simoneaux has brought to light plastic piping that DuPont workers used to contain the leaks and avoid extensive repairs that would shut the plant down. The videos also showed what he claimed were large leaks of toxic sulfur dioxide and carcinogenic sulfur trioxide gas.

Simoneaux acknowledged Wednesday that he would get 25 percent to 30 percent of any fines the EPA would collect from DuPont if he prevails with his suit.

Simoneaux’s attorneys have said DuPont owes daily fines worth $37,500 for more than three years and that leaks have been documented for 250 days.

Simoneaux also acknowledged that he called his lawyer, Jane Barney, on the night of Oct. 27, 2013, and drove back to Baton Rouge to pick up her camera to videotape what Simoneaux contended was a massive, dangerous plant gas leak.

The video was played for jurors Tuesday.

Presented with his own cellphone records, Simoneaux acknowledged Wednesday that he called Barney and a former co-worker about two hours before he called 911.

Simoneaux had previously testified about his intentions in pointing out the leaks: that he has a careerlong concern for worker safety following his uncle’s death in an industrial accident when Simoneaux was a teenager.

DuPont attorney Monique Weiner also had Simoneaux review an email sent plantwide from then-environmental coordinator Kerry Long on March 27, 2012, about the first quarter of the year.

The email noted that “environmental compliance in 1Q 2012 was excellent.”

The email was sent out after Simoneaux had reported leaks in February and March, including a time that led to a harsh discussion with plant manager Tom Miller.

Simoneaux told Weiner that the statement in the email led him to believe the leaks were not being reported and that he did not speak with a supervisor because “it wouldn’t do any good.”

Then, Weiner had Simoneaux go through four internal reports Simoneaux had filed on leaks between April and the end of May 2012. That was the period right before Simoneaux stopped working at the plant site but before he left the company in August of that year.

After each report was presented, Weiner asked Simoneaux if he was aware of any other leaks between the times he filed those reports and whether DuPont contractors fixed the leaks he reported.

Simoneaux asserted there were other leaks but he only reported severe leaks as he had been directed to do by management. He also claimed contractors worked on gas collection pipes but did not fix underlying equipment cracks that were allowing gas to escape.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.