Two Charged with Conspiracy, Risking Catastrophe for Inferior Work on Lawrence County Natural Gas Pipeline

May 5, 2023 | Topic: Criminal

The defendants’ actions put Pennsylvania lives and property at risk

HARRISBURG, PA —Attorney General Michelle Henry today announced the filing of criminal charges against two men for falsifying paperwork and risking catastrophe while working on a natural gas pipeline project.

Joseph Berkich, 45, of Washington County, is charged with falsifying industrial radiologist certification documents to obtain x-ray examination work on a natural gas pipeline project for EnTech Energy, then conspiring with Welton Darl Shipe to cover-up his deception.

Shipe, 61, of West Virginia, a Quality Assurance Manager on the project, is charged with providing false statements to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection about the pipe’s condition and repairs that he commissioned surreptitiously.

The men are related by marriage and knew each other prior to conspiring to commit the crimes charged this week.

“These men allegedly put lives at risk by carelessly ignoring certifications and safety assurance requirements in  an effort to profit from pipeline work,” Attorney General Henry said. “Unfortunately, we have seen recently the devastating environmental impacts of such carelessness, and my office is committed to holding accountable those who put the environment and our citizen’s health and lives at risk. Thanks to the hard work of the Office of Attorney General’s Environmental Crime Section and the US Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, these men will now need to answer for their actions in a court of law.”

While employed as a Quality Assurance Manager at EnTech Energy, Shipe hired Berkich as an Industrial Radiographer to x-ray and interpret the welds on sections of the pipeline to evaluate their integrity. Berkich failed to provide the necessary certifications prior to starting the work. After EnTech repeatedly asked for the paperwork, Berkich provided certifications with multiple forged signatures. It was later discovered that Berkich was neither trained nor certified to perform this type of work.

As a result of Berkich’s lack of certification, EnTech was forced to hire another firm to re-examine all of the welds that Berkich had previously evaluated. That firm determined that some of the materials used by Berkich were not up to industry code and that Berkich signed off on a total of seven bad welds that threatened the integrity of the project and endangered the public.

Further investigation revealed that Shipe later directed a welder and Berkich to come in on a weekend — when the project inspector was not on site — to cut out bad welds and repair them without reporting the repairs. Reporting repairs is critical because the applied heat can cause the metal to become brittle leading to increased risk of leaks and the potential for the weld to become an ignition source.

In all, Berkich is charged with Forgery, Theft by Deception, Receiving Stolen Property, Tampering with Public Records, Tampering with Records or Identification, Risking a Catastrophe, and Criminal Conspiracy.

Shipe is charged with Tampering with Public Records, Tampering with Records or Identification, Risking a Catastrophe, Criminal Conspiracy, and Unsworn Falsification to Authorities.

This case was investigated by the Office of Attorney General with support from the US Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Courtney Cerniglia. All charges are accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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