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United States Attorney
Central District of California

Thom Mrozek, Public Affairs Officer
(213) 894-6947

January 10, 2005


            A former assistant administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency was sentenced today to 15 months in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme to fraudulently obtain money from a client who had hired her San Diego County company to assist in the clean-up of a Superfund site.

            Rita Marie Lavelle, 58, of Temecula, who served at the EPA during the Reagan administration, was sentenced this morning by United States District Judge S. James Otero.

            In September, a jury in Los Angeles federal court found Lavelle guilty of one count of wire fraud and two counts of making false statements to the FBI.

            A co-defendant in the case, Robert Virgil Cole, 68, of Ventura, pleaded guilty in September to one count of wire fraud. Cole was sentenced on December 16 to one year of probation and was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.

            Lavelle and a partner owned NuTECH Enterprises, Inc., an environmental consulting firm in Oceanside, California. Cole and a partner owned DeNova Environmental, Inc., a hazardous waste storage facility in Rialto, California.

            Lavelle and Cole forged documents that purportedly bore the signature of a Joseph Bertelli, the owner of Lemco Corporation in South Los Angeles, to make it appear that Bertelli owed Cole's company more than $52,000 for the removal and storage of hazardous waste. Those documents were used to obtain $36,441 from Capital Partners USA, Inc., a company that provides "factoring" services on accounts receivables to companies such as DeNova. (A factoring company typically advances money to clients in exchange for the right to collect the clients' accounts receivable. The advance is typically a percentage of the amount due to the client.)

            In April 2000, Lemco was ordered by the EPA to remove all hazardous waste from its site. Bertelli, who was then 86, had hired Lavelle to assist with the clean up. At the time, DeNova owed NuTECH $85,000 for work that Lavelle had previously performed for DeNova.

            In August 2000, Lavelle demanded payment from DeNova, but she agreed to discount the bill to $35,000 if DeNova could pay the amount immediately. Lavelle and Cole then allegedly devised a plan to submit a false purchase order to Capital Partners to make it appear that Lemco owed DeNova money. Lavelle submitted to Capital Partners numerous documents that bore Bertelli's forged signature. Capital Partners relied on these forged documents to advance DeNova $36,441. Only when Capital Partners attempted to collect from Bertelli did it realize that Bertelli had never signed the documents, Bertelli had never agreed to the bill and DeNova had never removed hazardous waste for Lemco.

            This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the assistance of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Health Hazardous Materials Division and members of the San Bernardino County Environmental Crimes Task Force, which includes the San Bernardino County Fire Department, Hazardous Materials Division; the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office; the California Department of Toxic Substances Control; and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Release No. 05-002

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