NETL ex-chief to be arraigned today

Accused of trying


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After more than 25 years at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Anthony Cugini's career there ended with a secret investigation and a federal indictment.

According to the U.S. district attorney, Mr. Cugini asked "witnesses to delete and redesignate computer files, and provide false answers to investigators' questions, in order to 'protect him' " during a Department of Energy investigation into whether he acted improperly as NETL's director.

Mr. Cugini, who resigned from his post in October, is being arraigned today. His attorney, Jerry Johnson, declined to comment.

According to people who were told about the investigation but asked not to be identified, Mr. Cugini was suspected of using his industry contacts to help a local charity, Holy Family Institute. Sources said Mr. Cugini approached NETL contractors and talked with them about the charity and a new school he was helping Holy Family explore that would serve underprivileged youth.

"All he did was try to help kids who are at risk to have a better future," said the charity's president and CEO, Sister Linda Yankoski. That Mr. Cugini could be in legal trouble for that -- "it just hurts to think that."

Mr. Cugini, who was based at NETL's South Park campus, has been a longtime volunteer at Holy Family, following in his family's tradition of helping the charity. Sister Yankoski stressed that Mr. Cugini "was not doing anything for personal gain."

"He may have gotten excited and enthusiastic about our program. Maybe it's different if you're a government contractor," she said. "If he made a mistake, it wasn't for anything personal. He was trying to help an organization, to get opportunities for kids to get internships."

Phipps Conservatory was another nonprofit that came up during the investigation the Department of Energy's inspector general conducted into Mr. Cugini's actions.

Sources said Mr. Cugini was suspected of showing favor to Phipps because of his friendship with its director, Richard Piacentini and other connections.

In August, NETL and Phipps signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct research into the effectiveness of Phipps' water treatment systems, but the research was suspended several weeks ago, according to Mr. Piacentini, who said the relationship between Phipps and NETL held no financial incentives for Mr. Cugini.

"There's no money involved in this research whatsoever," Mr. Piacentini said. "We've made the same offer to Pitt and CMU and they are doing research here."

As for Mr. Cugini, Mr. Piacentini said: "He's been a great friend of Phipps and I hope everything works out."

Such collaborations were a common cause for Mr. Cugini, who brought a different management style to NETL when he took the helm in April 2010 after 23 years at the agency. Contractors and employees have said he was more driven to make NETL part of the local community than his predecessors and more eager to see its research lead to usable products. Some described it as a culture shock.

"I think he felt a lot of people didn't know NETL existed and he really wanted to work with and engage all the organizations in the community," Mr. Piacentini said, "which I think is admirable."

Mr. Cugini was a driving force behind NETL's commercialization alliance, a collaboration between Oakland-based Innovation Works, several other startup groups and NETL researchers, to get products to market. That, too, has been discontinued in recent weeks.

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455


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