A supervisor and his associate working on a natural gas pipeline project in Lawrence County have been charged with falsifying records and risking a catastrophe in regard to examining and repairing welding.

The state attorney general’s office on Friday said Joseph Berkich of Washington County and Welton Shipe of West Virginia were charged in the scheme following an investigation by the AG and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.

Berkich, 45, is accused of falsifying industrial radiologist certification papers to obtain X-ray examination work for a project by EnTech Energy, then conspiring with Shipe to cover up the fraud.

Shipe, 61, was a quality assurance manager on the project and is charged with lying to the state Department of Environmental Protection about the pipeline’s condition and repairs.

He and Berkich are related by marriage, the AG said, and knew each other prior to the conspiracy.

“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 Michelle Henry said in a statement.

Shipe hired Berkich as a radiographer to X-ray and interpret welds on the pipe. Berkich didn’t provide the certifications required but did the work anyway. When EnTech asked for his papers, he provided fake certifications with forged signatures, the AG said. Berkich wasn’t trained or certified to do the work.

EnTech had to then hire another firm to re-examine all of the welds Berkich had evaluated. The firm found that some materials Berkich used were not up to code and that he had signed off on seven bad welds that could have put the public in danger.

Investigators also discovered that Shipe later ordered a welder and Berkich to come in on a weekend, when no inspectors were around, to cut out the bad welds and fix them without reporting the repairs, the AG said.

Reporting repairs is important because the applied heat can cause the metal to become brittle, leading to an increased risk of leaks.

Berkich is charged with forgery, theft by deception, receiving stolen property, tampering with public records, tampering with records or identification, risking a catastrophe and conspiracy.

Shipe is charged with similar crimes.

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.