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Medals, Plaques, Trinkets: Souvenirs of a Busy Shop

November 27, 1987|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — David Navarette keeps an old cardboard box full of souvenir medallions, a statuette designed to commemorate completion of a nuclear bomb design and a hand-turned, $250 foot massager in a box at his house.

They are the remnants of years of full-bore production at a now-closed model and mock-up shop at the U.S. Department of Energy's Rocky Flats facility. It functioned in many ways as a factory and wholesale house supplying trinkets, plaques, tie tacks, cuff links and other goodies handed out at retirement and transfer parties, weapons unveilings and other ceremonies.

Before the operation was shut down in 1985 after Navarette blew the whistle on it, its production facilities had been widely used.

Trinket orders came from many places. They were primarily for items to be handed out in employee recognition programs or as gifts to cement business relationships between government officials and executives of Rockwell International Corp., according to court files. Rockwell runs the Rocky Flats plant for the government.

There were commemorative plaques to be presented to physicist Edward Teller, the father of the atomic bomb, and former Energy Secretary James Schlessinger, as well as baseball caps, plastic-embedded miniature nuclear devices and plastic and metal logos by the tens of thousands.

A 1978 order is typical of work the secret factory did. When something called the Shiva laser device was about to be completed, the Department of Energy authorized creation of a special medallion to be handed out to officials and workers who had participated in development of the device, according to an official department letter produced by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

An order was sent by Livermore to the Rockwell plant for more than 1,000 medallions. Navarette's calculations, contained in court files, show that time worth $20,000 was billed to Livermore for creation of the prototype of the medal--though Warren Rooker, Navarette's former boss, contends the figure is significantly inflated.

Then the trinket factory issued a purchase order to a Danbury, Conn., coin and medal manufacturing firm to strike the medallions--at a cost of $2,654.75. The factory issued a second order for plastic packaging for the medals--for an additional $1,400, according to purchase orders produced by Livermore.

Process Often Repeated

Over the years, according to court files, the process was repeated hundreds of times. The shop produced 100 replica logos for the Energy Research and Development Administration--inventoried in three sizes for quick availability to fill plaque and souvenir orders--at a cost of $20,000. Some items produced by the factory were gold- and silver-plated, using precious metals from government stocks intended for nuclear weapons production.

A total of $11,480 was spent to prepare a plaque for presentation to physicist Edward Teller, father of the atomic bomb. Made of black Formica and walnut, the plaque was festooned with engraved copper plates detailing Teller's resume--and, Navarette contends, many of the copper plates were repeatedly revised. He recalls spending several hours in a Denver public library searching for artwork of the seal of an English university Teller once attended.

Simulated jewels were made by cutting pieces of special neodymium glass intended for use in lasers and laser weapon targets. A total of $10,000 was spent on a pencil-shaped award to be given to a retiring engineer. The pencil tip lifted off to reveal storage space for liquor.

While existence of the trinket shop is not in dispute, an FBI investigation of the operation resulted in no criminal charges. An FBI spokesman said prosecutors told the agency that there was insufficient evidence to bring felony charges at the time and that there was some hesitation over proving the actual value of worker time and other charges involved in the trinket-manufacturing.

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