Poor Kevin Marsh.
He’s looking at prison time and a $5 million fine, and all he did was defraud more than 700,000 South Carolina Electric & Gas customers out of $2 billion.
But the rest of us — basically, everyone who uses electricity from here to Columbia — got 20 years of paying a $2.3 billion “fine” for something we didn’t even do. In fact, we're the victims.
When Marsh, the former CEO of SCANA, pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to SCE&G’s nuclear meltdown on Wednesday, a lot of people proclaimed “justice” had prevailed. That’s true; many white-collar criminals skate.
But is it really justice when the victims get a heavier sentence than the villain?
And make no mistake, South Carolina residents had their pockets picked.
In 2007, SCE&G (in concert with Santee Cooper) asked the Legislature for the ability to charge customers upfront for a pair of nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer. The reactors came with the promise of lower electric rates into the foreseeable future.
The scam worked great for nearly a decade. Marsh and his minions told everybody the project was percolating along nicely, when design, construction and supply chain problems were literally running it into the ground. But the façade helped them collect millions in performance bonuses.
By the time all this was revealed in 2017, SCE&G customers had shelled out $2 billion for a couple of holes in the ground and a lot of unused material.
Between 2012 and 2017, Marsh was paid about $28 million in compensation. You can live pretty well on bank like that, even in a nice place like Cayce. When the malfeasance came out, however, Marsh bailed and the SCANA board cut the strings on his golden parachute … which some reports suggest would have given him another $28 million.
Still, he walked away with about $2 million in stock. Prosecutors have based his “fine” on how much, exactly, he earned in performance bonuses for those false reports about the nuclear plants.
SCANA’s scam brought us Dominion, which came in to buy the utility. To drum up support for the deal, they promised SCE&G customers $1,000 checks to make up for the average $2,000 every customer had paid in nuclear surcharges to that point.
They did everything but say the checks were in the mail.
Then Dominion reneged, claiming they’d just lower future electric rates (where have we heard that before?). Adding insult, they said the company would need everyone to keep paying off that debt to the tune of $2.3 billion over the next 20 years.
You know, so they could keep paying dividends to shareholders.
The state allowed that to happen, which is corporate welfare … if not a crime.
Marsh and his SCE&G buddies were living la vida Lexington on our dime, but at least they halfway intended, at least initially, to give us something for that money.
Some people may have found it gratifying to see Marsh face consequences for bilking more than a million South Carolina residents (Santee Cooper and electric co-op customers got scammed, too) for $2 billion.
But it’s hardly worth the price tag.
Yes, Marsh may go to prison for a spell — and that’s horrible, even if he goes to Club Fed instead of, say, Lieber or Lee. But if he cooperates, and rolls on his former colleagues, his gig as a guest of the government will be over in a few years.
Meanwhile, we’ll still be paying back the money he and his pals swiped until the late 2030s.
So never let anyone tell you crime doesn’t pay. Sometimes it’s quite lucrative.