International Distributor Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced for Illegal Sale and Distribution of Refrigeration Equipment Containing Ozone Depleting Substances
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Criminal Investigation Division, Atlanta Area Office, and Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), announce that eAir, LLC (eAir), a Florida corporation with its headquarters in Miami, was convicted and sentenced in federal court in Miami in connection with the illegal sale and distribution of refrigeration equipment that contained restricted ozone depleting substances, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act, Title 42, United States Code, Sections 7413(c) and 7671.
eAir pled guilty to a one count information filed against it before U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga, for knowingly violating a requirement and rule relating to stratospheric ozone protection through the sale and distribution in interstate commerce of a product manufactured on or after January 1, 2010 containing the refrigerant gas, hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22). HCFC-22 is a widely used refrigerant for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems.
Immediately following the guilty plea, eAir was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay a $200,000.00 criminal fine. In addition, as a special condition of probation, eAir was ordered to implement and enforce a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan, to pay community service in the amount of $75,000.00, and to reimburse the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for costs incurred in storing illegal merchandise.
Federal law prohibits the sale and distribution of refrigeration components manufactured after January 1, 2010 that contain or are “pre-charged” with HCFC-22. The federal Clean Air Act regulates air pollutants including ozone depleting substances such as HCFC-22. The Clean Air Act and its implementing regulations established a schedule to phase out the production and importation, as well as establish limitations on the sale and distribution of equipment containing Class II ozone depleting substances not otherwise subject to the bulk importation allowance system.
According to court records, eAir is in the business of importing and distributing merchandise, including air conditioning equipment, condensers, and mini-split air conditioning units. CBP records revealed thirty-four consumption entries filed on behalf of eAir for equipment that contained prohibited HCFC-22. eAir, with knowledge of the January 1, 2010 ban against the sale and distribution of such equipment, had the merchandise manufactured by an affiliated company in China between approximately February and July 2010. eAir subsequently executed more than 100 separate invoices for the sale of approximately 5,033 units or components containing HCFC-22 in direct violation of the Clean Air Act.
This matter and others involving the smuggling and distribution of ozone-depleting substances are being investigated through a multi-agency initiative known as Operation Catch-22. Operation Catch-22 has, to date, included the successful conviction of nearly a dozen individuals and corporations at every level of the refrigerant gas smuggling and distribution chain.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the EPA, ICE-HSI, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Criminal Investigation Bureau, and the Miami-Dade Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi A. Mazer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.