Matthew Black Eagle Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Great Falls, on July 31, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon, MATTHEW BLACK EAGLE, a 48-year-old resident of Wolf Point, pled guilty to storing hazardous waste without a permit. Sentencing has been set for November 5, 2012.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris A. McLean, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On June 6, 2010, a Wolf Point area rancher reported to the Valley County Sheriff's Office that he had found approximately 45 drums of unknown substances on land he was leasing from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation tribal government. The Valley County HAZMAT team responded to the site and found (44) 55-gallon drums, some of which were marked, "sulphuric acid," "caustic potash," and "caustic soda beads." The team took three samples from the pile of drums. These samples were tested and determined to have a pH of less than 2, making them highly corrosive.
On June 23, 2010, based on these results, an EPA Emergency Response Unit was dispatched from EPA's Region 8 office in Denver to conduct further sampling and clean up the site. At that time, BLACK EAGLE, the owner of the property where the drums were located, was interviewed by EPA-CID agents. During the interview, BLACK EAGLE stated that sometime between August and October 2009, Darren Fromdahl had approached him and offered $500 to store the barrels on his property. BLACK EAGLE further described Fromdahl bringing the barrels on a trailer towed behind Fromdahl's pickup truck. BLACK EAGLE stated that shortly after Fromdahl left the drums on his property, he received two Moneygram wire transfers from Fromdahl's father, totaling $500. BLACK EAGLE denied knowing the materials were hazardous.
EPA found a total of 74 containers on the site. Analysis of samplings of these containers revealed that 28 of them contained substances with a pH of less than 2 and 4 had a pH of greater than 12-the characteristic of a corrosive hazardous waste. EPA also found a drum with a label that stated "Classic Plating, 2146 Old Hardin Road, Billings, MT 59101." Investigation determined Classic Plating was located at 2237 Main Street, Billings, Montana.
On November 16, 2010, EPA-CID executed a federal search warrant at Classic Plating. During the search, it was discovered the business had recently shut down operations and sold the plating equipment and chemicals to a company from Rapid City, South Dakota. While executing the search warrant agents interviewed Darren Fromdahl. Fromdahl stated that he originally moved the drums from Classic Plating to a family farm north of Wolf Point approximately three years prior to the interview. Fromdahl explained that he moved the drums because he did not know what to do with them as they contained hazardous materials. Fromdahl stated that he and another person moved the drums from the family farm to the tribal property approximately one year prior to the interview.
Fromdahl pled guilty to transporting these hazardous wastes and cooperated with law enforcement. During an interview as part of his cooperation, Fromdahl stated that BLACK EAGLE inquired several times during the unloading process on his land whether the materials were toxic. Fromdahl repeatedly told BLACK EAGLE the materials were mostly toxic acid copper. BLACK EAGLE then demanded money from Fromdahl for storing the materials on his property. Fromdahl explained the two Moneygram wire transfers BLACK EAGLE received from Fromdahl's father, totaling $500, were in payment of BLACK EAGLE's demand.
A Montana DEQ hazardous waste specialist summarized the results of EPA's sampling and cleanup of the site: 74 various sized containers found on the tribal property contained 1,801 gallons of waste, of that 1,258 gallons were determined to be hazardous waste. As such, a permit would be required to store and/or transport these materials. A Montana DEQ employee checked the appropriate databases and determined that BLACK EAGLE was not licensed to operate a treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) nor was the subject property listed as a TSDF in the State of Montana.
BLACK EAGLE faces possible penalties of 5 years in prison, and $50,000 fine for each day of violation.
The investigation was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division.