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Duke Energy’s Guilty Plea in Coal Ash Spill

Duke Energy will plead guilty to federal criminal charges in connection with last year’s coal ash spill in the Dan River as well as other unauthorized discharges at other Duke coal plants in North Carolina.

You wouldn’t have known about the guilty plea from reading America’s leading newspapers.

The New York Times ran an Associated Press story under the headline — Duke Energy Agrees to Fund Dan River Cleanup.

No mention of the guilty plea in the headline or the story.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story under the headline — Duke Energy Agrees to Pay $102.2 Million for Coal-Ash Spill: U.S. government charges company violated Clean Water Act.

No mention of the guilty plea in the headline or the story.

USA Today ran a story titled — Duke Energy to pay $102 million to end water violations.

No mention of the guilty plea in the headline or the story.

The Charlotte Observer: Federal charges filed against Duke Energy after coal ash spills — Misdemeanor counts stem from coal ash spills in 4 N.C. rivers.

No mention of the guilty plea in the headline or the story.

Why no mention of the guilty plea?

One reason — neither the Justice Department nor Duke Energy mentioned the guilty plea in their press releases.

The Justice Department’s press release is headlined — Duke Energy Subsidiaries Charged With Clean Water Act Violations.

It says nothing about the plea agreement.

“A criminal information is not a finding of guilt,” federal prosecutors said in the press release. “A corporation charged by criminal information is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices will have no further comment on this matter until after court proceedings.”

Duke Energy’s press release is titled — Duke Energy, United States reach proposed agreement on Dan River.

No mention of a guilty plea.

The only indication of the guilty plea comes in a consent to transfer document filed by Duke Energy criminal defense attorney James Cooney, a partner at Womble Carlyle in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“The defendants wish to plead guilty,” Cooney writes in the document filed in federal court in Charlotte.

Another Duke Energy criminal defense attorney told Corporate Crime Reporter that under the rules of the federal court, “the plea is under seal until it is accepted by the court at the time of the entry of the plea.”

But it is common practice for the Justice Department to announce plea agreements —  even if they have yet to be accepted by the courts.

For example, when GlaxoSmithKline entered a plea agreement, the headline on the Justice Department press release was — GlaxoSmithKline to Plead Guilty and Pay $3 Billion to Resolve Fraud Allegations and Failure to Report Safety Data.

Appalachian Voices, a public interest group based in Boone, North Carolina, didn’t seem to have a problem getting the story straight.

The title of their press release?

Duke Energy Pleads Guilty in NC Coal Ash Pollution.

Russell Mokhiber edits Corporate Crime Reporter.

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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