WASHINGTON – A New York developer and his companies were indicted today on federal charges that they conspired to illegally fill jurisdictional wetlands, announced Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney William Hochul for the Western District of New York.
William L. Huntress and his companies, Acquest Transit LLC and Acquest Development LLC, were charged in the Western District of New York for illegally filling wetlands in Amherst, N.Y., as detailed in the seven count indictment. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court in the Western District of New York on Nov. 10, 2011. This indictment follows affirmative civil suits filed by the Department of Justice in 2009 seeking to prevent the defendants from filling wetlands in both Amherst and at an unrelated site.
The indictment describes a scheme to illegally fill wetlands situated on a 96-acre parcel sitting upstream from Tonawanda and Ransom Creeks. As alleged in the indictment, the defendants purchased the property with the intent of commercially developing the site and were aware of the presence of the wetlands at the time of that purchase. After the purchase, and despite knowing that wetlands were present, the defendants, and others acting at the defendants’ direction, filled a portion of these wetlands by installing both a roadway and a “fill pad” on the site.
According to court documents, Huntress and other conspirators concealed the illegal wetland filling by concealing documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), making false statements to federal law enforcement officers and disregarding both administrative and judicial orders enjoining the defendants from further earth-moving activities on the site.
The indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Water Act; substantive Clean Water Act counts; obstruction of justice; false statements; concealment of material facts; and contempt of court.
The Clean Water Act counts of the indictment each carry a maximum possible term of three years in prison and a potential $50,000 fine for each day the violations occurred. The conspiracy and false statements counts of the indictment each carry a maximum possible term of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, twice the gross gain to the defendants or twice the gross loss to a victim. The obstruction of justice count of the indictment carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and similar fines.
An indictment is a mere accusation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until and unless convicted in a court of law.
This case was investigated by Special Agents from the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango of the Western District of New York and Todd W. Gleason of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.