Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
On July 26, 2023, prosecutors unsealed a complaint charging Jose Lema, a/k/a Jose Lema Mizhirumbay, with willfully violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, causing the death of an employee (Victim-1) in February 2022.
Lema is the founder of ALJ Home Improvement, Inc., a New York roofing company. On February 8, 2022, Lema sent Victim-1 and three other ALJ employees to install a roof on a three-story multi-family apartment building under construction in New Square, New York. Victim-1 and the other employees ascended a ladder to the roof, but within 20 to 30 minutes of arriving at the worksite, Victim-1 fell off the roof onto the ground approximately 30 feet below. He died from his injuries. Victim-1 was wearing a safety harness, but there was nothing connecting his harness to the roof, nor were there anchors on the roof to which the harness could be connected. OSHA cited ALJ for failing to ensure its employees used fall protection systems.
Lema has a history of worker endangerment violations. OSHA previously investigated six other incidents and issued citations. On February 27, 2019, an ALJ employee (Victim-2) slipped off the roof of a newly constructed three-story home in Kiamesha Lake, New York, falling 35 feet to the ground, and subsequently perished from his injuries. OSHA determined that Victim-2 was not wearing a safety harness and issued citations to ALJ for, among other things, failure to ensure employees wear fall protection systems. ALJ settled and agreed to pay a penalty.
Between February 2019 and February 2022, there were five more incidents in which Lema exposed his employees to fall hazards but only paid a penalty to OSHA. In August 2022, following the death of Victim-1, ALJ employees were working on an 18-foot roof in New Jersey, without any apparent fall protection. They were wearing harnesses that were not secured to the roof. OSHA issued more citations, including willful failure to ensure employees wear fall protection systems.
Between 2019 and 2023, OSHA conducted eight investigations, issuing 24 willful citations, 16 serious citations, with Lima paying $2.3 million in penalties.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation.
On July 25, 2023, prosecutors filed an information charging Bradley Bruss, plant manager for Disposable Instrument Company, Inc., (DIC), with violating the Clean Water Act for knowingly discharging or causing the discharge of pollutants in excess of the company’s Industrial Wastewater Discharge Permit (IWDP) (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311 (a), 1319 (c)(2)(A)). Company owner Brian Chansky was sentenced earlier this year for similar violations.
Chansky owned DIC, which manufactured medical and surgical device components from stainless steel and aluminum bar stock. This process generated electroplating wastewater that required pretreatment prior to discharging it into the sanitary sewer system, or publicly-owned treatment works (POTW). DIC hired Bruss in 1989 and he became plant manager in 1990. As plant manager, Bruss was involved in all aspects of the manufacturing process and reported directly to Chansky.
Chansky employed 15 workers and often participated in day-to-day operations. In January 2015, he acquired an IWDP. In 2016, DIC began bypassing the pretreatment system, sending wastewater directly to the POTW, and dumping hazardous waste into a dumpster behind the facility. During this time, DIC reduced the amount of hazardous waste manifested for shipment and disposal while maintaining consistent production activities.
In August 2018, Bruss periodically bypassed the pretreatment process, dumping wastes in the back parking lot, as well as directly into the POTW. At this time, an employee alerted local authorities, who then contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In September 2018, the EPA installed two manhole samplers up and downstream from DIC to collect water samples. After removing the samplers approximately a month later, chemists determined that DIC violated its discharge permit on multiple days between September and October 2018.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.
On July 20, 2023, prosecutors charged Jun “Harry” Liang and Brian Phelan for participating in an illegal big-game guide-outfitter operation. Between August 2021 and August 2022, Liang and Phelan conspired to provide guide-outfitter services for caribou and brown bear hunts in Fairbanks, while neither were licensed by the state of Alaska to do so.
Liang posted advertisements on the ‘Little Red Book’ social media site offering guiding and outfitting services for Alaska big- game hunts out of Fairbanks, Alaska. Interested hunters wired deposits to Liang, who promised them he would locate and scout for trophy animals that could be transported out of state. Neither Liang nor Phelan possessed a state of Alaska big game guide-outfitter license. Liang fraudulent collected approximately $11,000 in 2021 and $60,000 in 2022, on behalf of him and Phelan, for these guided hunts.
Liang is charged with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, wire fraud, Lacey Act false labelling, possessing a firearm as an illegal alien, and a money laundering conspiracy and substantive charges (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1343, 1956(a)(1)(A), 1957; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(A), 3373(d)(1)(B)). Phelan is charged with conspiracy and Lacey Act false labelling violations (18 U.S.C. § 371; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(A), 3373(d)(1)(B)).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Alaska State Troopers Wildlife Investigations Unit.
On July 18, 2023, prosecutors charged Rodney Thomas with violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. § 668(a)). Thomas shot and killed a mature bald eagle with an air rifle on May 12, 2023, in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. An eye-witness contacted law enforcement after observing the bird’s death and seeing Thomas’s car drive off. Thomas turned himself in shortly thereafter, admitting to shooting the bird.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation with assistance from the Mt. Pleasant Township Police Department, the Washington County District Attorney’s Office, and the Pennsylvania State Game Commission.
On July 11, 2023, prosecutors charged James B. Wiley, Jr., with making a false statement for falsifying records required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)).
Wiley was the sole owner of a corporate entity known as the CJT Group. CJT Group owned and operated five community water systems (CWS) that provide to subdivisions and mobile home parks in Sumter County, Georgia. Each system relies on groundwater that is withdrawn from wells. A CWS is a public water system with at least 15 service connections used by year-round residents for the area served, or one that regularly serves at least 25 year-round residents.
Between approximately 2010 through 2022, local environmental officials issued a number of enforcement actions against Wiley and CJT, including Notices of Violation culminating in five Orders of Contempt in the Superior Court of Sumter County, Georgia.
Federal prosecutors charge Wiley with submitting a Groundwater Operations Report for the period between January 31, 2023, and February 15, 2023, which included falsified chlorine level readings. This report further purported to show readings from water-usage meters at two other locations, when in fact the meter was broken at one location and absent altogether at the other.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
On July 26, 2023, Daniel A. Chase pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act for his role in removing and altering emissions control equipment on diesel trucks (42 U.S.C § 7413(c)(2)(C)). Sentencing is scheduled for October 31, 2023.
Chase co-owned DC 907 Diesels, LLC, a vehicle repair shop specializing in diesel trucks. Starting in 2017, Chase personally "deleted and tuned" customers' diesel trucks and directed other shop employees to do so as well. Between approximately March 2018 and June 2022, Chase and his employees deleted and tuned at least 144 diesel vehicles.
Chase tampered with and rendered inaccurate the vehicles' monitoring devices so that the modified vehicles could continue to function despite the removal or deletion of emissions control equipment. In total, Chase collected approximately $349,693 for tampering with these vehicles.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.
On July 19, 2023, Emanuele Palma, a senior manager with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA US), pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) (18 U.S.C. § 371). Palma and others conspired to withhold information from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the design, calibration, and function of the emissions control systems on more than 100,000 Model Year 2014, 2015, and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles, and information concerning these vehicles’ emission of pollutants, fuel efficiency, and compliance with U.S. emissions standards.
Beginning in 2010, FCA US developed a new 3.0-liter diesel engine for use in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 vehicles (the subject vehicles) that would be sold in the United States. Palma, Sergio Pasini, and Gianluca Sabbioni purposely calibrated the emissions control functions of several “clean diesel vehicles” to produce lower NOx emissions under conditions when the subject vehicles would be undergoing testing on the federal test procedures or driving “cycles,” and higher NOx emissions under conditions when the subject vehicles would be driven in the real world. Palma and his co-conspirators employed “cycle beating” to achieve best-in-class fuel efficiency and make the subject vehicles more attractive to FCA’s potential customers, i.e., by increasing fuel economy and reducing the frequency of a required emissions control system service interval.
In August 2022, a court sentenced FCA US to pay a $96,145,784 fine; a forfeiture money judgment of $203,572,892; and to complete a three-year term of probation. Pasini and Sabbioni await extradition on conspiracy and CAA violations.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.
On July 18, 2023, Gerardo Moreno-Salas pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conspiracy violation (18 U.S.C. § 371). Sentencing is scheduled for August 29, 2023.
On May 19, 2023, Moreno-Salas attempted to enter the United States from Mexico at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry (POE) with undeclared Mexican pesticides (41 1-Liter Bottles of Taktic). Taktic contains the active ingredient amitraz, which is prohibited in the United States at the concentration level found in these bottles.
Those involved in clandestine marijuana grows use illegal pesticides to cultivate unregulated marijuana on both public and private land in the U.S.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, Homeland Security Investigations, and Customs and Border Patrol conducted the investigation.
United States v. Jaime Alejandro Sanchez Robles, No. 2:22-CR-00227 (E.D. Calif.), AUSA Alstyn Bennett.
In October 2022, law enforcement officers accessed a marijuana grow operation located in a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Trinity County. They found the remnants of more than 1,200 pounds of soluble fertilizer, 20 gallons of liquid fertilizer, 50 pounds of rodenticide, and at least one dead animal. Workers on site had also diverted water from a nearby stream. Law enforcement officers arrested Sanchez Robles and eradicated close to 2,000 marijuana plants.
The U.S. Forest Service Office of Law Enforcement, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation. Integral Ecology Research Center (a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife and their ecosystems) analyzed and documented the environmental damage.
On July 13, 2023, Antonio Damon Atkins pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act to sponsor and exhibit animals in an animal fighting venture and to possess and transport animals for purposes of participation in an animal fighting venture. Atkins also violated the Animal Welfare Act by possessing an animal in an animal fighting venture (18 U.SC. § 371; 7 U.S.C. § 2156(b), 18 U.S.C. § 49(a)). Atkins is the final of five defendants to plead guilty to participating in dog fighting activities in both the Eastern and Middle Districts of Louisiana.
Law enforcement surveilled Atkins and his co-conspirators via Title III wiretaps, intercepting dozens of calls extensively discussing their dogfighting activities. Agents executed a search warrant on Atkins's property and seized 14 pit-bull type dogs, in addition to dogfighting paraphernalia, including dogfighting magazines, pit-bull certification records, weighted dog collars, heavy chains, and veterinary medications.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation.
On July 31, 2023, a court sentenced Carlos Warren to 20 months’ incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring to fight dogs and promote dog fighting using interstate publications (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 49; 7 U.S.C. §§ 2156(c), (f)).
The court further ordered the forfeiture of all the dogs and animal-fighting paraphernalia seized at Warren’s residence during the execution of a search warrant in March 2022. As a condition of supervised release, Warren will not own or care for any animals. He is also required to relinquish any licenses, certifications or other authorizations related to veterinary or animal care, and prohibited from procuring such licenses.
Between June 2016 and March 2022, Warren owned, bred, and trained numerous fighting dogs in Virginia, California, and Mexico. As a veterinary technician, he also attended dog fighting exhibitions where he was paid to provide treatment to dogs and to euthanize others. In addition, Warren also authored, edited, published, and circulated a magazine called “The Connector” via the U.S. mail, internet, and other interstate instrumentalities. This periodical contained interviews of known dog fighters, the results of various dog fights, and breeding and pedigree information for fighting dogs. He also advertised for sale various medications used to treat dogs before and after fights. Warren stole some of the medications he advertised rom veterinary practices that employed him during this time.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation with assistance from the Virginia State Police.
On July 28, 2023, a court sentenced Michael T. Ban to pay a $5,000 fine, complete a two-year term of probation, and pay $4,000 in restitution to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Ban is prohibited from hunting, fishing, trapping, providing guiding or outfitting services, or engaging in any way in those activities for one year. He pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act for illegally transporting wildlife in interstate commerce (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372 (a)(2)(A), 3373(d)(2)).
During the fall of 2019, Ban traveled to Noble Outdoors, a commercial big game guiding business located in North Platte, Nebraska, to hunt mule deer during the archery season. During the hunt, Ban unlawfully shot a mule deer buck with 5 X 5 antlers in velvet, without a valid deer permit and during closed season hours, at approximately 11:12 P.M. on September 6, 2019. After taking the deer while guided and accompanied by the owner of Noble Outdoors, Ban purchased a Nebraska Non-resident Archery Deer Permit the following day in order to conceal the fact the deer was taken without a permit. Under Nebraska state law, hunters are required to possess a valid permit and habitat stamp prior to hunting or taking mule deer and are authorized to hunt only during the legal shooting hours from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. Ban subsequently transported a taxidermy shoulder mount including parts of the unlawfully taken trophy deer back to his Colorado residence.
This case is part of an ongoing prosecution of numerous defendants related to violations committed by Noble Outdoors and its owner, associates, and clients between 2015 and 2021. A total of 17 defendants have been sentenced and ordered to pay more than $65,000 in fines and restitution for state and federal violations related to the interstate transport of unlawfully taken wildlife, including: shooting deer from the road, taking deer and pronghorn without a valid permit, taking deer with a firearm during archery season, taking deer during night-time closed season hours, dumping carcasses in waters of the state, and improperly checking or registering big game.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Law Enforcement Division conducted the investigation.
On July 26, 2023, a court sentenced Stanlee Fazi to six months’ incarceration, followed by three years' supervised release. Fazi pleaded guilty to trafficking turtles in violation of the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(A), 3373(d)(1)(B)).
Between July 2017 and June 2020, Fazi unlawfully collected eastern box turtles from Virginia and sold them online to buyers throughout the United States. Many of Fazi’s purchasers, in turn, smuggled the turtles from the United States to Hong Kong and China for the illegal pet trade. Fazi received approximately $14,500 in profits from the illegal sales via Facebook Marketplace. Fazi bound the turtles, put them inside socks, and shipped them using FedEx.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation as part of Operation Middleman. The operation focused on reptile trafficking from the United States to China.
On July 25, 2023, a court sentenced Tenley M. Miller to complete a one-year of probation. Miller pleaded guilty to making a false statement for falsifying laboratory results (18 U.S.C. § 1001).
Miller owned Reliance Laboratories, Inc., a company that tested public drinking water samples. In May 2021, the City of Martinsburg sent water samples to Miller’s laboratory for testing. Miller reported that she tested the samples and found them to be safe. Investigators then discovered that Miller did not test the samples because her laboratory equipment was not operational. The City of Martinsburg unwittingly reported the false test results to the State of West Virginia pursuant to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General and Criminal Investigations Division conducted the investigation.
On July 24, 2023, a court sentenced Herman T. Washington to 46 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release. Washington is the final defendant to be sentenced in this investigation involving interstate dog fighting. Connell Stukes was sentenced to 63 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release; Jerome Donte Smith was sentenced to 37 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release; and Antonio Ruffin was sentenced to 36 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release, and to pay a $1,000 fine. All pleaded guilty to conspiracy and violating the Animal Welfare Act for taking part in dog fighting ventures (18 U.S.C §§ 371, 49; 7 U.S.C. §§ 2156 (a)(1), (a)(2), (b)).
Between December 2017 and August 2021, the defendants travelled to North Carolina, South Carolina, and other states to fight dogs. Authorities rescued 91 pit bull type dogs as a result of this drug and dog fighting investigation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia conducted the investigation.
On July 20, 2023, a court sentenced Royal T. Washington to 15 months’ incarceration, followed by two years’ supervised release. Washington pleaded guilty to conspiring to participate in an animal fighting venture (18 U.S.C. § 371).
Between November 2019 and November 2020, Washington and co-conspirators engaged in dog fighting activities, including breeding, selling, and transporting dogs for the purposes of dog fighting as well as organizing fights for as much as $20,000 a match. Washington and others exhibited dogs in fights and placed bets on those dog fights. Based upon a wire tap and surveillance, investigators executed a search warrant at Washington’s residence finding 15 pit bull-type dogs, and a variety of equipment including heavy chains, a dog treadmill, medical equipment, and dog breeder certificates. The dogs displayed scarring consistent with dog fighting.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia conducted the investigation.
On July 20, 2023, a court sentenced Tony Lee Coffman to pay a $50,000 fine into the Lacey Act Reward Fund. He will complete a three-year term of probation with the first 120 days spent in home confinement. Coffman will also pay $3,430 in restitution to an Ohio conservation fund. Coffman pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act for illegally transporting and selling protected plants (wild American ginseng) and falsifying records (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(B)(i), 3372(a)(4), 3373(d)(1)(B)).
Coffman was a licensed dealer of wild American ginseng in the state of West Virginia. On September 7, 2017, and September 15, 2017, Coffman purchased approximately 28 pounds of American ginseng roots that others illegally transported from Ohio. Ginseng dealer reports he submitted to authorities in October 2017 claimed the ginseng purchased on September 7th originated in West Virginia, and he failed to mention the roots purchased on September 15th. Coffman also submitted falsified records claiming ginseng illegally harvested in Ohio between November 2018 and September 2020 came from West Virginia.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation.
On July 18, 2023, a court sentenced Edward A. Bundy to pay a $12,000 fine into the Lacey Act Reward Fund. Bundy will complete an 18-month term of probation, during which he is prohibited from hunting anywhere in the world. He also must forfeit two bull caribou and one black bear, all illegally killed.
In August 2017, Bundy submitted falsified paperwork claiming Alaska residency. He then illegally killed a bull caribou as a non-resident. In April 2018, Bundy arranged to ship the hide of the bull caribou from a tannery in Alaska to his home in Arkansas. He pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act for unlawfully transporting illegally taken wildlife (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(A)(2)(a), 3373(d)(2)).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Alaska Wildlife Troopers.
On July 17, 2023, a court sentenced Decorius Mire to 18 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release, after pleading guilty to animal crushing (18 U.S.C. §§ 48(a)(1), 48(c)).
In October 2021, Mire and a co-defendant found a live domestic cat in the parking lot of an apartment complex. The co-defendant, encouraged by Mire, kicked the cat as if kicking a football field goal, propelling the cat approximately 15 to 20 feet through the air. Mire filmed the event with his cell phone and posted the video on his social media accounts where others shared it and made comments.
The Beaumont Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation.
On July 17, 2023, a court sentenced Allen Rudolph to pay a $6,500 fine and complete a two-year term of probation. Rudolph is prohibited from hunting and entering federal and state forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and wildlife refuges while under supervision. Rudolph pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act and other petty offenses (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(1), 3373(d)(2)).
In November 2021, multiple hunters notified law enforcement that Rudolph killed a deer during a bonus deer hunt within the federal forest. Hunters were required to bring any deer killed during this bonus hunt to the check station for DNR employees to take biological information and tag the deer. The logs from the check station did not reflect that Rudolph had reported killing any deer during the bonus hunt. Law enforcement officers located the gut pile, spent shell casings, and a deer stand in the area where Rudolph reportedly killed the deer. They then obtained a search warrant to retrieve the firearm used to kill the deer, as well as the deer itself.
While executing the search warrant, Rudolph told agents that he killed a deer and did not take it to the check station. He also told them that he left the deer’s rack hanging in the woods on his property. Officers subsequently retrieved the rack, skull plate, and a fresh set of antlers from this illegally taken deer.
The United States Forest Service Office of Law Enforcement and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation.
On July 17, 2023, a court sentenced Noble Marital Trust d/b/a Noble Family Dairy (Noble Dairy) to pay a $25,000 fine for violating the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1319(c)(1)(A)). The company negligently discharged cow manure from a large, concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) into Caris Creek and the Applegate River, waters of the United States.
This family-run dairy farm has operated a CAFO since 1972. As part of Noble Dairy's certified organic operations, the company applied manure from its cattle as fertilizer to agricultural fields bordering the creek, which flows to the river. In 2019, the total number of cattle on site exceeded the permitted limit by close to 200. Following a series of heavy storms in February 2019, rainfall breached an irrigation ditch across from the dairy. Water swept across the road, flooding the dairy’s fields. As a result, over a 20-day period in late March 2019, the dairy illegally dumped manure into the Applegate River.
During this period, an agricultural inspector visited the dairy and observed what appeared to be islands of solid manure in Caris Creek and manure visibly discharging from the creek into the Applegate River. Despite these illegal discharges, the dairy continued applying liquid manure to its fields. As a result, water tested downstream of the dairy contained more than 1,500 times the permitted level of E. coli.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
On July 13, 2023, a court sentenced Fidel Sanchez-Cruz to 11 years and three months’ incarceration, followed by 60 months’ supervised release. Sanchez-Cruz will also pay $19,354 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service, after pleading guilty to conspiring to grow marijuana in a National Forest and depredation of public lands and resources (18 U.S.C. § 1361; 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841).
Sanchez-Cruz was the leader and organizer of a marijuana grow operation in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. In August 2018, law enforcement officers searched the grow site and eradicated 6,575 marijuana plants. Sanchez-Cruz oversaw the operation from a distance, while co-defendants Abraham De Los Santos-Sanchez and Agustin Cruz-Sanchez lived at the grow site between April and August 2018. Sanchez-Cruz made brief visits to the site during the planting and harvest seasons to inspect the crop, drop off supplies, and provide instructions to the workers. Authorities estimate the street value of the marijuana at more than $1.5 million.
According to an environmental assessment, the defendants caused extensive environmental damage, by, among other things, using and disposing of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals onsite, including carbofuran (a banned pesticide). The assessment concluded that the carbofuran and other pesticides and fertilizer at the grow site likely posed a significant direct risk to several endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, the foothill yellow-legged frog, and coho salmon. Authorities also identified and removed makeshift reservoirs and a large network of plastic irrigation lines. The defendants diverted more than 14.25 million gallons of water on site.
Both Agustin Cruz-Sanchez and Santos-Sanchez were each sentenced to ten years’ incarceration.
The U.S. Forest Service Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Justice North State Marijuana Investigation Team, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, the Corning Police Department, and the Red Bluff Police Department conducted the investigation.
On July 10, 2023, a court sentenced Abdul Rahman to complete a one-year term of probation and pay $30,000 in restitution, joint and several, to the San Diego Lions, Tigers, and Bears Animal Sanctuary. Rahman pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act for his role in illegally selling a jaguar cub (16 U.S.C. §§ 1538(a)(1)(E), 1540(b)(1)).
During the spring of 2021, co-defendant Trisha D. Meyer sold Rahman a live jaguar cub. Prior to the sale, Meyer posted photographs and videos of herself on Instagram with the cub in California, offering to sell it for $30,000, plus an additional $1,000 for shipment, to Rahman, a Texas resident.
Rahman owned the jaguar for a few months before selling it to another buyer for $20,000. The buyer (who lived with a pregnant woman) later decided it unwise to keep the animal in the same house as a newborn child. He took the jaguar to the Sanctuary in September 2021, which continues to care for the animal. Meyer pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act and is scheduled for sentencing on December 4, 2023 (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(C), (a)(1),3373(d)(1)(B)).
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted the investigation.
On July 10, 2023, a court sentenced Andrew Hucks to complete a six-month term of probation for his role involving illegal wastewater discharges into the Los Angeles County sewer system.
Hucks worked for Starlite Reclamation Environmental Services, a company in the business of treating and disposing of other companies’ industrial wastewater prior to discharging it into the publicly owned treatment works (POTW). Between November 2014 and June 2015, Starlite employees Fernando Torres and Hucks, along with company president Christopher Jaramillo and former vice president Robert Conn, routinely discharged acidic wastewater into the POTW operated by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, which flowed to a POTW operated by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. They discharged wastewater with an average pH of 3, below its permitted pH level of 5. The defendants tampered with monitoring devices by, among other things, placing pH probes into buckets of clean water.
Hucks and Torres pleaded guilty to negligently violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) (33 U.S.C. §§ 1317(d), 1319(c)(1)(A)). Torres is scheduled for sentencing on October 2, 2023. Conn was sentenced in May 2021 to complete a four-year term of probation and Jaramillo was sentenced in June 2021 to pay a $6,000 fine and complete a three-year term of probation. Both pleaded guilty to knowingly violating the CWA. Starlite was sentenced in June 2023 to pay a $100,000 fine and complete a three-year term of probation for a knowing CWA violation (33 U.S.C. §§ 1317(d), 1319(c)(2)(A)).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, and the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County conducted the investigation.
On July 6, 2023, a court sentenced Clipper Shipping A.S. to pay a $1.5 million fine and complete a four-year term of probation to include implementing an environmental compliance plan with third party monitoring. Clipper Shipping violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships by failing to maintain an accurate oil record book (33 U.S.C. § 1908).
On October 28, 2021, a M/T Clipper Saturn crew member gave a Coast Guard inspector a digital file that contained evidence of illegal bilge water discharges. Further investigation revealed that the vessel’s Chief Engineer ordered the crew to transfer bilge water into the gray water tank. The crew then used the emergency eductor system to illegally discharge the gray water tank contents. The Chief Engineer that ordered the illegal activity was not on the vessel when it arrived in Houston on October 28, 2021.
The U.S Coast Guard Investigative Service conducted the investigation.
Environmental Crimes Bulletin