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former manager of north carolina pesticide company pleads guilty in the misuse of pesticides

March 14, 2012

RALEIGH  – Timothy Terrell Smither, 54, pleaded guilty in federal court in Greenville, N.C., to conspiring to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and to violate the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), announced Thomas G. Walker, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  

According to the court documents and information from court proceedings, beginning in 1995, Steve Miller (now deceased), the owner and operator of the Miller Trophy Room, formerly known as Love Bug Pest Control, Inc, began to focus the business on treating animal trophy mounts.  In 2001, the company began advertising on the Internet and claimed to engage in business in 48 different states, including Mount Pleasant, N.C. 

In 2000, Miller decided to use Termidor SC to treat indoor mounts and began purchasing large quantities of the product.  Termidor SC is a pesticide that is not authorized for indoor use except for applications into wall voids.  As required by law, pesticides must be labeled.   FIFRA makes it unlawful to detach, alter, deface, or destroy any labeling on pesticide containers.  The Act also makes it unlawful to use any registered pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.

In 2002 and again in 2005, Miller and another co-conspirator purchased thousands of labels with the company’s name and address printed on them.  From the initial purchase through 2009, Smither and co-conspirators relabeled the containers of Termidor SC with the company labels.  From 2004 to 2009, the conspirators shipped the relabeled Termidor SC to independent contract employees in other states for application and treatment of indoor trophy mounts. 

Because of the conspiracy, customers who were unaware that the product sent to them contained Termidor SC, treated large trophy mounts indoors by mixing the pesticide with water, and saturating the mounts as they sat on tarps.  The mounts would then be left to air dry.  

During the application process, some customers were directly exposed to Termidor.  Several customers reported holding the mounts while they were being sprayed and that the chemical made contact with their arms and hands.  Another customer reported that his wife ran a day care center out of their home and that the children played on and petted the mounts from time to time after the treatments.  Customers were told that the chemical being applied was completely safe, would not hurt them, and was a Miller Trophy Room “secret” chemical.

To conceal the use of Termidor SC, the conspirators created false Material Safety Data Sheets that stated in Section II – Hazardous Ingredients/Identity Information, “Ingredients are considered a ‘TRADE SECRET’”. 

“The misuse of pesticides is a significant problem that results in human health and safety risks,” stated Mr. Walker.  “The long term criminal conduct in this case included the false information provided to customers and the indoor treatment of trophy mounts in homes and commercial establishments nationwide.  This behavior demonstrates the conspirators’ total disregard for human health and the environment, and such conduct will be vigorously prosecuted by the DOJ and the USAO-EDNC.”

"Pesticides must be used safely and legally to avoid harming the public and the environment," said Maureen O'Mara, Special-Agent-in-Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Atlanta. "In this case, the defendant -- who was not a licensed pesticide applicator -- illegally re-packaged Termidor -- which is not authorized for indoor use -- and continually misled customers about its safety. As a result, the pesticide was improperly used thousands of times at hundreds of locations nationwide, with some customers being directly exposed while the mounts were being sprayed and some children touching the mounts after they were treated. Today's guilty plea sends a clear message that those who ignore the law and put people at risk will be prosecuted.

"In this case, people were misled about the product that was being used in their homes and businesses.  Stopping these individuals helps protect people from unfair and unsafe business practices,” said Greg McLeod, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.  “Our agents’ great work and our continued partnership with agencies such as the US Attorney’s Office, EPA, NC Department of Agriculture, and the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office was instrumental in successfully investigating these types of violations."

At sentencing, that will be set in 90 days, Smither faces up to five years imprisonment followed by up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. 

Investigation of the case is being conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA Region 4, the NC Department of Agriculture Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan. 



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