FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2005
TDD (202) 514-1888
TWO CORPORATIONS AND THREE SOUTH MISSISSIPPIANS CONVICTED OF FILLING WETLANDS AND DEFRAUDING HOMEOWNERS ABOUT SUITABILITY OF LOTS FOR DEVELOPMENT
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi announced today that on Friday, February 25, 2005, a petit jury in Jackson, Mississippi, returned guilty verdicts on all counts in an indictment brought against Robert Lucas, Jr., of Lucedale, Mississippi; his daughter, Robbie Lucas Wrigley of Ocean Springs, Mississippi; and M. E. Thompson, Jr., of D’Iberville, Mississippi, and two affiliated corporations; Big Hill Acres, Inc., and Consolidated Investments, Inc. The three individuals and two corporations were charged with Clean Water Act violations in connection with their development of wetlands in a 2600 acre subdivision on property in Vancleave, Mississippi, known as Big Hill Acres.
In addition, the individuals and corporations were convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud for having sold hundreds of home sites in wetlands despite numerous warnings from public health officials that they were illegally installing septic systems in saturated soil. Warnings stated that these systems were likely to fail and contaminate the property and the drinking water aquifer below it.
“These defendants endangered the environment and public health by disregarding the law and by ignoring repeated warnings from federal, state, and local officials,” said Tom Sansonetti, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “In his Earth Day message, President Bush made it a priority of this Administration to preserve and protect wetlands. This case demonstrates the Department’s commitment to that goal.”
"The defendants illegally filled hundreds of acres of wetlands and defrauded low-income residents of Big Hill Acres who ended up with leaking sewage that put the health of their families at risk," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The convictions should send a clear message that those who knowingly jeopardize public health will be held accountable for their crimes."
The indictment charged that as early as 1996, inspectors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed Mr. Lucas that substantial portions of the Big Hill Acres property contained wetlands and could not be developed as home sites. The indictment recites a long record of warnings that the Mississippi Department of Health and other regulatory agencies issued to the defendants notifying them of the public health threat they were creating by continuing to install septic systems in saturated soil. Neither those warnings nor cease and desist orders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restrained Lucas, Wrigley, and engineer M. E. Thompson from improperly installing systems that did not conform to state health department regulations in lots that they continued to develop and sell.
The Big Hill Acres residents have suffered from seasonal flooding and the discharge of sewage from failing septic systems on the ground around their homes. The development has been the subject of numerous civil lawsuits by tenants against the developers.
This case was investigated by the FBI and the EPA with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service and the Mississippi Department of Health. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Jeremy Korzenik and Deborah Harris of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section and by Assistant United States Attorney Jay Golden of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.