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Former NETL director pleads not guilty to obstruction charge

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

The former head of a federal energy lab pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to obstructing a Department of Energy investigation into the misuse of his office.

Other than to answer U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Eddy's questions, Anthony Cugini, 54, of Upper St. Clair didn't talk during his brief arraignment. His attorney, Jerry Johnson, said afterward that he can't discuss the original Energy Department investigation.

An Energy Department investigator who attended the hearing declined to comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Dillon said during the hearing that Cugini destroyed and hid evidence, lied to investigators and had others destroy and hide evidence and lie to investigators. He didn't provide any details on how the agency believes Cugini misused his office.

Court documents show that the government turned over evidence concerning Cugini's dealings with Holy Family Institute in Emsworth. Sister Linda Yankoski, the charity's CEO, could not be reached for comment.

The indictment says Cugini tried to thwart the investigation between Sept. 4 and Sept. 24. He could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison if convicted.

Cugini was director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is based in South Park and has research sites in Morgantown, W.Va.; Sugar Land, Texas; Albany, Ore.; and Anchorage.

Johnson said his client and the government haven't discussed a plea bargain, but he doesn't think Cugini will face additional charges as a result of the agency investigation.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Cugini, who is free on a personal recognizance bond, is working at a relative's business, Johnson said.

“He's a strong person going through a difficult time,” Johnson said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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