FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2000(202) 514-2008
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
THREE PLEAD GUILTY TO ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES IN LOUISIANA
Sewage Treatment Plant Operators Conspired to Violate the Clean Water Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three operators of a sewage treatment company have pleaded guilty to environmental crimes related to the mismanagement of nearly 100 sewage treatment and drinking water plants in Louisiana, the Justice Department announced today.
Glenn Kelly Johnson and Montell Watkins pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in New Orleans to one count each of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act. Johnson also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. The third defendant, Carol Rowell, pleaded guilty to one count of violating a Clean Water Act permit.
A plea agreement filed today calls for Johnson to serve three years in prison and pay a fine of $500,000 and restitution of $250,000 to affected customers. The plea agreements entered for Watkins and Rowell do not include sentencing recommendations.
Johnson, the general manager of Johnson Properties, Inc., admitted that he failed to properly operate and maintain dozens of treatment plants in southern Louisiana. As a result, hundreds of customers did not receive basic sewage treatment for years, and raw sewage and other untreated waste backed up into customers' homes. The sewage also entered bayous connected to the Louisiana's Intercoastal Waterway, posing a threat to its recreational and commercial users.
"Enforcement of the Clean Water Act makes a real difference in people's lives," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. "We have held these criminals accountable for threatening the health of entire communities."
Johnson and Watkins, the president of Johnson Properties, admitted that as part of the conspiracy they sought to purchase undercapitalized wastewater facilities in Louisiana and a number of other states. In order to secure the purchase of facilities in Thibodaux and Houma, La., Johnson and Watkins assured to Louisiana regulators that they had the expertise and ability to manage and maintain the sewer systems. But, from 1991 to 1998, the defendants diverted customers' fees for their own personal use and failed to spend the money necessary to properly operate the facilities.
When regulators began inquiring about the condition of the plants, Johnson and Watkins attempted to conceal the problems by submitting false monitoring information. Rowell, director of Johnson Properties' in-house water monitoring laboratory, submitted reports to regulators without verifying their accuracy.
In addition, Johnson admitted that he obstructed justice by attempting to bribe a witness to keep key information from federal investigators.
Johnson Properties and its subsidiaries - Utility Management Services Inc., Johnson Utility Company Inc., Seashore Utilities Inc., Seashore Utilities of Louisiana Inc., Thoroughbred Park Service Corp., and Tara Development Corp. - control the greatest number of privately-owned wastewater treatment facilities in Louisiana and operate more than 200 facilities in Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
Following a civil lawsuit brought by the United States against Johnson Properties, a federal judge in March 1999 appointed a receiver to operate the company and its subsidiaries.
"This case is an excellent example of the federal government's resolve to marshal its resources to investigate and prosecute serious environmental crimes," said Kenneth Mead, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. "The Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, and the Coast Guard will continue our nationwide efforts to assist the Department of Justice and our other partners in vigorously enforcing the Clean Water Act."
"The FBI considers the investigation of environmental crimes a priority in Louisiana," said Charles Mathews, Special Agent in Charge. "The guilty pleas in this case are a direct result of a cooperative effort by federal and state agencies toward the common goal of investigating and prosecuting environmental crimes."
The case arose from an investigation by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and it was jointly prosecuted by the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department and the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. It was investigated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service; the EPA Criminal Investigative Division; and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Criminal Investigations Section.