INDIANAPOLIS -- A Brazil man sentenced to three years of probation after recently pleading guilty to environmental violations.
According to information provided by the United States Attorney's Office, Ecological Systems, Inc. (ESI) officials Mark R. Snow, 44, Brazil, Joseph T. Biggio, 51, Illinois, and Michael R. Milem, 61, Carmel, Ind., and were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker following their guilty pleas to Clean Water Act violations.
The case was the result of a joint investigation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Criminal Investigation Section and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Criminal Division.
ESI was in the business of accepting and treating industrial waste that contained numerous toxic pollutants such as oil, lubricants, coolants, landfill leachate, benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, and xylene. ESI had purchased the facility located at 4910 West 86th Street, Indianapolis, in approximately 2000 from a company who formerly used the facility only for treating storm water, not the heavy pollutants ESI accepted.
According to officials, the facility subsequently developed numerous problems over the years of doing business, including allowing several of its storage tanks to become filled with sludge, equipment breaking down and not being replaced and inadequate equipment.
On Feb. 11, 2009, a heavy rainfall allegedly caused the ESI facility to fill with water and, as a result of having inadequate storage space, the company illegally discharged approximately 300,000 gallons of untreated oily wastewater into the City of Indianapolis' sewer system without their knowledge.
Investigators allege by the next day, the city received numerous complaints from residents downstream from ESI who noticed oil coming up through the sewer and onto their yards.
Officials allege Snow and Milem were both involved in making the decision to illegally bypass the ESI treatment system completely and discharge directly to the sewer,
Biggio, who had been the Executive Vice President at ESI between 2001 and 2007, was involved in two schemes in violation of the Clean Water Act. One involving ESI officials "cherry picking" samples, that is, taking multiple samples but only reporting the most favorable ones to the City of Indianapolis' required monthly report. The second scheme involved "wet weather" sampling, which involved ESI officials taking samples during rainfall events in an attempt to dilute the samples. Biggio then allegedly signed the falsified monthly reports sent to the City of Indianapolis over a period of several years.
"Accurate information is essential for federal, state and local governments to protect the public and the environment," Randall Ashe, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Chicago, said. "In this case, the defendants' repeated illegal actions to hide the plant's true capacity and inability to handle spills and excess rain resulted in damaged property and cost homeowners time and money. Individuals who try to hide the truth will be prosecuted."
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Gayle L. Helart, who prosecuted the case for the government, Biggio was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine, while Milem and Snow were each ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
Milem was placed on home detention for six months.
Snow was ordered to give eight hours of community service per month for the three years he is on probation.
Snow and Biggio were also ordered to seek graduate classes in which to retell the circumstances of their arrest and conviction for the benefit of students learning environmental law and compliance.
Judge Barker noted in her remarks during the sentencing proceedings that all three men were working for a company that appeared to be negligent in its daily operations regarding environmental compliance. She observed that this activity went on for so long that the events of Feb. 11, 2009, were completely foreseeable.
Barker further noted the types of pollutants involved are silent killers against which people have no defense, which is why it was so important for these facilities to be highly regulated. Citing the individuals violated the public's trust in the way they operated the facility, the Court also noted ESI had shut down in October 2010, much to the satisfaction of the surrounding community.