Ex-energy lab chief who faced charges found dead in Upper St. Clair
The death of a former federal energy lab leader awaiting trial on obstruction charges stunned his friends who remember the Upper St. Clair man as an honest, talented, deeply religious family man who devoted much of his time to charitable works.
The body of Anthony Cugini, 54, the former director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, was found on Wednesday morning in a dry creek bed in a wildlife area of Upper St. Clair. His wife had reported him missing on Tuesday.
More tests and investigations are needed to determine how Cugini died, Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl E. Williams said on Thursday.
“We found a guy out in the woods with no obvious signs of trauma. Of course, his death is suspicious,” he said.
“I don't think it's a homicide. This guy was under investigation, so I said, ‘Let's try to get some more information.' We want to do toxicology and tissues tests. There was some minor trauma consistent with a fall but nothing that would cause his death,” Williams said.
Upper St. Clair police officials who are conducting the investigation could not be reached for comment.
“I'm stunned. I had a lot of respect for him. He was a good person to deal with, above board. He was one of the most decent human beings I know,” said Ronald Demicheli of Bethel Park, a former local union president at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is based in South Park and has research sites in Morgantown, W.Va.; Sugar Land, Texas; Anchorage; and Albany, Ore.
Cugini pleaded not guilty during his arraignment last month to obstructing a Department of Energy investigation into allegations of misuse of his office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Dillon said at the hearing that Cugini destroyed and hid evidence during the investigation, lied to investigators and had others destroy and hide evidence and lie to investigators. He did not provide details on how the agency believes Cugini misused his office.
Court documents show the government turned over evidence concerning Cugini's dealings with Holy Family Institute in Emsworth.
“His death is tragic. I am just devastated,” said Sister Linda Yankoski, Holy Family's CEO.
“ He was a good man, a wonderful family man and a wonderful human being. We have all lost a good person who made such a difference in academia, the government and in all that he did,” she said. “He was a talented, caring individual. It's terrible. It's tragic.”
Yankoski said Cugini's association with the institute began when his father and brother painted the chapel and other parts of the institute.
“He wanted to become a volunteer to help us with our young people. He cared and wanted to participate with disabled youth. He wanted to give back,” Yankoski said.
Demicheli said Cugini loved Holy Family and was a devout Catholic who went to Mass “almost every day, if not every day, before work.”
Police began searching for Cugini when he was reported missing. The search resumed on Wednesday morning, and his body was found a short time later in Wingfield Pines, an 80-acre conservation area along Mayview Road that is owned by the Allegheny Land Trust. His vehicle was found at the entrance to the park.
Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or email@example.com. Staff writers David Conti and Brian Bowling contributed to this report.