Former Freedom President Gary Southern has been indicted along with former Freedom owners and officers Dennis Farrell, William Tis and Charles Herzing, by a grand jury in Beckley, West Virginia.
Freedom itself, along with environmental consultant Robert Reynolds and tank farm plant manager Michael Burdette, have also been given information charges by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Freedom is charged with the negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, negligent discharge of refuse matter in violation of the Refuse Act, and violating an environmental permit. Burdette and Reynolds have each been charged with violating the Clean Water Act.
Specifically, Southern is charged with the negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, negligent discharge of refuse matter in violation of the Refuse Act, and violating an environmental permit. Southern is also charged with wire fraud and various bankruptcy fraud charges.
If Southern is convicted of all the charges contained in the indictment, he is exposed to a statutory maximum of 68 years in prison. Goodwin had previously announced that Southern had been released on bond.
Farrell, Tis and Herzing have all been charged with the negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, negligent discharge of refuse matter in violation of the Refuse Act, and violating an environmental permit. If the trio is convicted of all charges, they could receive a statutory maximum of three years in prison.
The misconduct alleged in the indictment includes, but is not limited to, failure to properly maintain the containment area surrounding the tanks at Freedom’s Elk River facility, and to make necessary repairs to ensure the containment area would contain a chemical spill; failure to properly inspect a tank containing the chemical MCHM; failure to develop and implement a spill prevention, control and countermeasures plan; and failure to develop and implement a stormwater pollution prevention plan and groundwater protection plan, both requirements of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that the law enforcement actions against the group “send an unambiguous message: that compliance with environmental safety standards is an obligation, not a choice.”
“It’s hard to overstate the disruption that results when 300,000 people suddenly lose clean water,” Goodwin added. “This is exactly the kind of scenario that the Clean Water Act is designed to prevent. This spill, which was completely preventable, happened to take place in this district, but it could have happened anywhere. If we don’t want it to happen again, we need to make it crystal clear that those who engage in the kind of criminal behavior that led to this crisis will be held accountable.”
A copy of the indictment is available here.