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Environmental Crimes Bulletin April 2024 Week 2

In this issue:

United States v. Western River Assets, LLC, et al., No. 3:23-CR-00005 (S.D.W.V.), AUSA Erik Goes and SAUSA Perry McDaniel

Discharging oil

On April 8, 2024, a court sentenced David K. Smith to 18 months’ incarceration, including six months home detention. His companies, River Marine Enterprises, LLC and Western River Assets, LLC, were each fined $100,000 and placed on five-year terms of probation. The defendants violated the Rivers and Harbors Act for discharging refuse into navigable waters (33 U.S.C. §§ 407, 411). They also will jointly pay a total of $1,856,958 in restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard National Pollution Fund Center.

Western River Assets owned a towboat, the Gate City, that docked along the West Virginia shore of the Big Sandy River from approximately 2010 until January 2018. River Marine Enterprises operated the vessel during this time. Smith was the sole owner of both River Marine Enterprises and Western River Assets, and was responsible for operating both companies.

On January 10, 2018, the Gate City sank while docked, discharging oil and other substances into the Big Sandy River. The oil left a sheen on the river and oily deposits beneath the surface. As a result of this incident, officials with the City of Kenova, West Virginia, were forced to close the city’s municipal drinking water intake for three days while various regulatory agencies responded to clean up the spill.

Following an inspection of the vessel in November 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard had issued an administrative order in December 2017, notifying Smith that the Gate City presented an “imminent and substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the environment because of a threatened discharge of oil from the vessel.” The administrative order required Smith to remove all oil and hazardous materials from the Gate City prior to January 31, 2018. Unfortunately, the vessel sank days before this deadline, and before Smith had complied with the order.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Coast Guard, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia National Guard, and other responders conducted the investigation.

United States v. Jonathan Achtemeier, No. 3:24-CR-05072 (W.D. Wash.), AUSAs Seth Wilkinson and Lauren Staniar, and SAUSA Karla Perrin

On April 8, 2024, prosecutors charged Jonathan Achtemeier with conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act for tampering with pollution control software on diesel trucks (18 U.S.C. § 371; 42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(2)(C)). Trial is scheduled to begin on June 10, 2024.

Between 2018 and 2021, Achtemeier conspired with garage mechanics and truck fleet operators to disable the anti-pollution software installed on diesel trucks. Achtemeier remotely disabled the software by connecting to laptops he gave to co-conspirators. Once an individual hooked up the laptop to the truck’s onboard computer, Achtemeier could access it from his computer and delete the software designed to slow the truck if the pollution control device was missing or malfunctioning.

Achtemeier advertised his services throughout the country on social media, doing business as Voided Warranty Tuning (VWT) or Optimized Ag. Charging approximately $4,500 per truck, Achtemeier grossed more than $5 million for these services.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.

United States v. Diesel & Offroad Authority, LLC, et al., No. 6:24-CR-00092 (D. Ore.), AUSA William McLaren

On April 10, 2024, a diesel repair shop and its owner pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act for tampering with pollution monitoring devices on at least 184 vehicles (47 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(2)(C)). Diesel & Offroad Authority , LLC (D&O), and its owner/operator, Christopher P. Kaufman, are scheduled for sentencing on July 17, 2024.

Between 2018 and 2022, D&O tampered with and disabled emissions control systems on close to 200 diesel vehicles. The company charged customers approximately $2,300 each for the emissions modifications and collected more than $378,000 for the unlawful services over an approximately four-year period. As company owner, Kaufman oversaw and participated in the illegal modification of vehicles, including procuring various automotive parts used in the process and directing employees in this illegal activity.       

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.

United States v. Ernesto Gonzalez Campos, No. 8:22-CR-00287 (M.D. Fla.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Patrick Duggan and AUSA Ilyssa Spergel

On April 12, 2024, a court sentenced Ernesto Gonzalez Campos to pay a $1,000 fine, complete an 18-month term of probation, and perform 50 hours of community service. A jury convicted Campos in November 2023 on all three Migratory Bird Act violations charged (16 U.S.C. §§ 703, 707(b).

Between March 2020 and July 2022, Florida wildlife agents conducted an undercover investigation into the wild capture and subsequent commercialization of migratory songbirds (Operation Ornery Bird). The defendant and others trapped the birds, which included painted buntings, indigo buntings, lazuli buntings, rose breasted grosbeaks, blue grosbeaks, and yellow-faced grassquits, by placing cages in forests along migration routes and luring male birds to the trap cage with a female of the same species. They sold and traded the birds amongst the competitive songbird community.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducted the investigation.

United States v. Aaron Rudolf, No. 1:23-CR-00391 (D.D.C.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Kris Dighe, ECS Trial Attorney Steve Foster, AUSA Jennifer Blackwell, and ECS Paralegal John Jones

On April 12, 2024, a court sentenced Aaron Rudolf to pay a $600,000 fine, complete a three-year term of probation, and perform 60 hours of community service. Rudolf pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act (18 U.S.C § 371).

Rudolf is the owner of Rudy’s Performance Parts, Inc. Between 2015 and 2017, Rudolf and his employees disabled or removed emissions control components and tampered with on-board diagnostic systems (OBDs) on approximately 300 diesel trucks. As part of the process, Rudy’s sold (and its employees installed) defeat devices known as “tuners.” The tuner plugged into the vehicle’s OBD to reprogram and tamper with the electronic control unit, impairing its ability to monitor the operation of the vehicle’s emission control system. Rudolf and some employees knew that using the tuners in this manner would tamper with the OBDs on vehicles that were not used exclusively in competitions. Removing the emission control components resulted in additional diesel exhaust emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.

Updated May 3, 2024