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Environmental Crimes Bulletin December 2023 Week 2

In this issue:

United States v. Tommy J. Watson, et al., No. 1:23-CR-00787 (D.N.J.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy and AUSAs Kathleen O’Leary and Desiree Grace

On December 11, 2023, a grand jury indicted Tommy Waston and Johnnie Lee Nelson, Jr., for their participation in a dog fighting ring that involved the “DMV Board,” a Telegram-based dog fighting collective spanning several states. Between August 2017 and March 2019, Watson and Nelson conspired with others to fight, train, transport, and possess pit bull-type dogs in dog fighting ventures, in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Watson also possessed ammunition as a convicted felon (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 49, 922(g); 7 U.S.C. §§ 2156(a)(1), (b)).

Watson and others conducted a dog fighting operation known as “From Da Bottom Kennels.” They fought pit bull-type dogs in dog fights, housed and trained them for fighting, and illegally acquired medical equipment including skin staplers to treat injured dogs during fights. The defendants used the “DMV Board” to live-stream dog fights, training videos, and videos depicting how some dog owners killed “underperforming” animals.

Watson fought two dogs in Upper Deerfield Township, New Jersey, in December 2018. Watson and Nelson also trained and transported a third dog, named “Rambo,” for a fight at the same location in March 2019. Law enforcement arrived and discovered that participants had quickly moved two dogs inside a car on the property before fleeing to avoid detection by law enforcement. Watson is also charged with the unlawful possession of ammunition that he brought to the dog fight event.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.

United States v. Hydro Extrusion USA, No. 3:22-CR-00299 (D. Ore.), AUSA Ryan W. Bounds and RCEC Karla Perrin

On December 11, 2023, a court ordered Hydro Extrusions USA (Hydro) to pay a fine and restitution for violating the Clean Air Act (CAA) by negligently releasing a hazardous air pollutant from its facility, endangering employees, and a nearby community (42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(4)). Hydro Extrusions will pay a $550,000 fine and more than $213,000 in restitution to an employee sickened by the hazardous release.

Hydro operates as a secondary aluminum processing facility, melting aluminum scrap in induction furnaces to produce reusable aluminum billets. The CAA Title V permit requires aluminum production facilities to use “clean charge,” aluminum scrap that is free of paints, coatings, or lubricants.

Between July 2018 through June 2019, Hydro acquired and melted scrap aluminum coated in a mineral-oil based mixture that, when combusted, produced hazardous smoke. During this time, Hydro employees noticed excessive smoke in the facility. Despite federal and local authorities notifying the company that it was violating its permit, Hydro continued releasing hazardous air pollutants to the ambient air.

The Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

United States v. Xiao Pingping, No. 23-CR-60231 (S.D. Fla.), AUSA Emily R. Stone

On December 11, 2023, a court sentenced Xiao Pingping to one month of incarceration followed by three years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty to smuggling wildlife into and out of the United States (18U.S.C.§ §545, 554).

Between January 2022 and November 2023, Xiao smuggled shark fins, sea horses, and sea cucumbers into the U.S. and attempted to smuggle American ginseng out of this country.

On January 14, 2022, Xiao sent a package from Brazil to Florida. The package was labelled as containing “fish belly” but actually held 33 sea horses, 435 sea cucumbers, and 16 shark fins.

On November 19, 2023, Xiao attempted to smuggle 11 sea cucumbers from Nicaragua to Florida. When border officers seized the sea cucumbers, they explained to Xiao the legal procedure to follow to declare plants and wildlife. Five days later, however, Xiao attempted to smuggle nine bags and four boxes of American ginseng, an endangered and protected species from Florida to Nicaragua. Border Agents prevented her from boarding the aircraft.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Protection.

United States v. Vlad Nick Lashevski, No. 3:22-CR-00474 (S.D. Calif.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Stephen DaPonte and AUSA Melanie Pierson

On December 13, 2023, a court sentenced Vlad Nick Lashevski to time served and to pay $2,500 in restitution for pesticide disposal costs. Lashevski pleaded guilty to smuggling illegal pesticides (18 U.S.C. § 545).

On February 1, 2022, authorities apprehended Lashevski as he attempted to enter the United States from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. While inspecting his vehicle, they discovered 48 1-liter bottles of Mexican pesticides (Bovitraz / Amitraz) concealed in the trunk of the vehicle.

      Those involved in clandestine marijuana growing use illegal pesticides to cultivate unregulated marijuana on both public and private land in the United States.

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.

United States v. Antonio Damon Atkins, No. 3:22-CR-00086 (M.D. La.), former ECS Trial Attorney Matt Evans, AUSAs Lyman Thornton III and Jeremy Johnson, and ECS Paralegals Sam Goins and Jonah Fruchtman

On December 13, 2023, a court sentenced Antonio Damon Atkins to pay a $2,000 fine and serve 41 months’ incarceration followed by 3 years’ supervised release with the special conditions that he undergo cognitive behavioral therapy and be prohibited from owning or possessing dogs. Atkins pleaded guilty to conspiring 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, violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Atkins also violated the AWA by possessing an animal for the purpose of having it participate 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 in which they extensively discussed their dogfighting activities. Agents executed a search warrant on Atkins's property and seized 14 pit bull-type dogs, in addition to dogfighting paraphernalia, such as 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.

United States v. Michael J. Collins, No. 1:23-CR-00008 (D.R.I.), AUSA John P. McAdams

On December 13, 2023, a court sentenced Michael J. Collins to pay a $50,000 fine, complete a one-year term of probation, and perform 100 hours of community service. His two corporations, M&D Transportation, Inc. and Diesel Tune-Ups of RI, Inc., were each ordered to complete three-year terms of probation and make community service payments in the amount of $125,000 to the Rhode Island Environmental Recovery Fund. The companies also must enact environmental compliance plans and engage a third-party monitor. Collins pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and the companies pleaded guilty to conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act (CAA) by tampering with a monitoring device (18.U.S.C. § 371, 42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(2)).

Under the CAA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits the emission of air pollutants from various types of vehicle engines. Vehicle manufacturers design and install hardware components as part of the systems that reduce pollution by managing engine exhaust.

Between September 2014 and August 2019, Collins, the two corporate defendants, and a foreign national (FN) conspired to violate the CAA by selling a software program to diesel vehicle sales and repair companies throughout the United States that altered or disabled functions in emission control systems. This type of program is also known as “tuning service.”

The defendants shipped laptops to companies that purchased the tuning service. The companies then contacted the FN to remotely download the “tunes” into each vehicle’s engine control module. This enabled the vehicles to operate without proper emission controls, and with increased horsepower and torque. Often, installation of the tunes was undertaken by diesel sales and service centers that were making other changes to trucks’ pollution control systems. Collins also employed the same techniques to circumvent emission controls on some of his own diesel vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.

United States v. Samuel J. Webster, No. 1:22-CR-00068 (D. Utah.), AUSAs Melina Shiraldi and Karin M. Fojtik

On ­­­­­December 14, 2023, a court sentenced Samuel J. Webster, to serve 12 months and one day of incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release, and to pay a $5,500 fine. Webster pleaded guilty to violating the Animal Crush Act (18 USC §§ 48(c), (a)(1)).

In October 2021, Webster purchased a male guinea pig, subjected the guinea pig to serious injury, and posted the videos of him torturing and killing the animal on YouTube.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Woods Cross Police Department.

United States v. John Gallagher, No. 3:19-CR-00007 (M.D. Pa.), AUSA Philip Caraballo

On December 14, 2023, a court sentenced John Gallagher to complete a two-year term of probation after pleading guilty to two mail fraud violations (18 U.S.C. § 1341).

Gallagher owned and operated J. Douglas Environmental Systems, which provided fumigation and pest control services. Between July 2009 and August 2016, Gallagher falsified and forged a variety of documents, including business contracts, certificates of liability insurance, and certified applicator licenses for employees to apply fumigants (including Phostoxin, a restricted-use pesticide). Phostoxin is a highly toxic inorganic chemical compound used to kill insects and small mammals and is potentially lethal to humans. The improper use or storage of Phostoxin, including exposure to water, can lead to spontaneous ignition or explosion. Gallagher provided the altered and forged documents to a pesticide supplier in Virginia, various clients in Pennsylvania and New York, and those clients’ auditors. As a result of using the falsified documents, his business secured over $888,000 worth of contracts.

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

Updated February 1, 2024