An employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who has alleged fraud at the facility was badly beaten in the parking lot of a Santa Fe bar over the weekend in what his wife and lawyer yesterday said was an attempt to silence him.
The employee, Tommy Hook, had been scheduled to testify before a House committee, elaborating on internal audits that pointed to procurement fraud and financial waste at the lab, which conducts classified work on nuclear weapons, among other research.
At a news conference yesterday, Hook's wife, Susan, said Hook had gone to the Santa Fe bar Cheeks late Saturday evening to meet an individual who claimed to have corroborating information about fraud at Los Alamos. But that person never appeared. When Hook got into his car around midnight to leave, several assailants pulled him out, then kicked and punched him.
"If you know what's good for you, you'll keep your mouth shut," Susan Hook quoted the assailants as telling her husband.
A bouncer at Cheeks, Santa Fe's only topless bar, stopped the attackers, who then fled in cars. Hook's lawyer, Robert Rothstein, said the bouncer did not know the names of the assailants but has provided descriptions of the men and some license plate numbers.
FBI agents have joined the Santa Fe police in investigating the case, according to Bill Elwell, special agent in the FBI's Albuquerque office. Elwell said the FBI got involved after learning that Hook had been due to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"We're trying to determine if there have been any federal statutes violated here," Elwell said.
Hook was hospitalized with a fractured jaw and herniated disk. His wife, who was in Albuquerque at the time of the reported assault, said he had difficulty talking and could only mumble.
Hook had worked as a senior adviser for audits when he and a colleague, Chuck Montano, produced several reports between 2002 and 2004 that cited a pattern of financial irregularities in the lab's procurement division. They have since said their reports were quashed and they were given negative job appraisals, denied promotion, kept idle and otherwise pressured to quit.
In March, they sued the University of California, which operates the lab under contract with the Energy Department, alleging retaliation for their criticisms of management. The two whistle-blowers appeared in a report on the "CBS Evening News" that month, saying problems with the lab's purchasing were "worse than what management was telling the public."
Their case is the latest in a series of management problems that have plagued the lab since the 1990s and involved reports of many missing items.
Susan Hook said yesterday that her husband did not normally go to bars. She said he had been in bed Saturday evening when he received the phone call to go to Cheeks, and left the house after 10:30 p.m.
She said the fact that the assailants did not bother to steal her husband's money, wristwatch or car was evidence the assault was intended as a threat. "It is clear to us this was a message," she said. But she added that her husband "will not be stopped" and "will continue to tell the truth."
Montano, who also was present at yesterday's news conference, voiced similar determination to meet with congressional investigators and continue to publicize complaints about the lab.
"I will never be intimidated," he said.