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Environmental Crimes Bulletin January 2024 Week 4

In this issue:

United States v. Othel L. Pearson, No. 9:24-CR-00004 (D. Mont.), AUSA Randy Tanner

On January 22, 2024, prosecutors charged Othel L. Pearson with violations related to tampering with evidence derived from the shooting and killing of an endangered grizzly bear on his property (18 U.SC. § 1512(c)(1)); 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(G)).

On November 19, 2020, Pearson shot and killed a sow grizzly bear on his residential property using a .270 rifle. Pearson cut off a GPS collar that had been fitted to the bear and discarded the collar nearby in the Yaak River. Pearson also cut paws, ear tags, and an identifying lip tattoo from the bear carcass. Pearson then concealed the bear’s claws and an ear tag in a hollowed-out tree on National Forest System land near his residence. Pearson also failed to report the killing of the grizzly bear to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within five days as required.

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

United States v. Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan, et al., No. 7:23-CR-01448 (S.D. Tex.), AUSA Devin Walker

On January 23, 2024, an Alamo couple pleaded guilty to selling protected wildlife. Deyinara Gaza pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan pleaded guilty to violating the ESA and the Big Cat Public Safety Protection Act (Big Cat Act) (16 U.S.C. § 3372(e); 16 U.S.C § 1538 (a)(1)(F)). Sentencing is scheduled for April 23, 2024.

On August 24, 2023, Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan sold a margay cub to an undercover agent, for $7,500 in a local Academy Sports and Outdoors parking lot. A month later, he attempted to sell a jaguar cub to the same individual. He told his wife, Deyinara Garza, to bring a case of cash from their residence to the location. However, law enforcement conducted a traffic stop before she could arrive and discovered the money. Neither defendant possessed the proper paperwork to sell or transport exotic animals. Authorities recovered both animals, as well as $79,600 from Garza, which will be forfeited at sentencing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with assistance from the Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Houston and San Antonio Zoos.

United States v. Harvey A. Hugs, No. 1:23-CR-00006 (D. Mont.), AUSA Karla Painter

On January 24, 2024, a court sentenced Harvey A. Hugs to 36 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release, for illegally possessing firearms he used to kill eagles and sell their parts (18 U.S.C. § 922). Hugs pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms. His sentence will run concurrent to a three-year prison sentence he is serving in the district of South Dakota for Bald and Golden Eagle Act violations.

Hugs has multiple prior violations. He was convicted in 2002 of felony involuntary manslaughter in U.S. District Court in Montana and sentenced in 2014 for two separate state felony convictions.

Hugs illegally possessed firearms and used them to kill eagles, selling multiple eagle parts to an informant over a year’s time. A South Dakota jury convicted Hugs in February 2023 on three counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Hugs was sentenced to one year in prison on each count, to run consecutively, and ordered to pay $70,000 restitution.

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement; the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted the investigation.

United States v. Michael D. Valentine, No. 2:23-CR-00001 (S. D. Ohio.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Adam Cullman, AUSA Nicole Pakiz, SAUSA Mike Marous, and ECS Paralegal Jillian Grubb

On January 25, 2024, a court sentenced Michael D. Valentine to 21 months’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release, after he pleaded guilty to dogfighting and fentanyl distribution (18 U.S.C. § 49; 7 U.S.C. § 2156(b); 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846). Valentine will serve nine months concurrent with, and 12 months consecutive to, the 10 years he is currently serving on the drug charges.

Law enforcement first investigated Valentine for dog fighting offenses in 2019 following a dog attack on a small child living with the defendant. That investigation led to officials executing a search warrant of his residence and seizing 40 dogs. The search also recovered many items of dog fighting paraphernalia, including treadmills, veterinary supplies, and dog fighting videos.

In March 2022, officials executed a second search warrant at the defendant’s residence as part of a fentanyl-distribution investigation. That search revealed substantial evidence of drug distribution, as well as two assault-style rifles. Additionally, a search of a nearby property revealed 11 additional dogs the defendant used for fighting.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation, with assistance from local agencies.

United States v. Didion Milling, Inc., et al., No. 3:22-CR-00055 (W.D. Wisc.), ECS Trial Attorney Charlie Lord, ECS Senior Trial Attorney RJ Powers, ECS Trial Attorney Joel LaBissonniere, ECS Paralegals Chloe Harris and Jillian Grubb, and ECS Victim Witness Coordinator Angela Green

On January 25, 2024, a court sentenced Didion Milling, Inc., (DMI) to 5 years’ probation and to pay a $1,000,000 fine and $10,250,00 in restitution. The company pleaded guilty to charges related to a catastrophic explosion at its Cambria, Wisconsin, corn mill facility. Five Didion Milling employees were killed in that explosion and others were injured. The company pleaded guilty to falsifying records related to its Occupational Safety and Health Act and Clean Air Act obligations to conceal violations from government agencies (18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(3)).

A jury convicted employees Shawn Mesner and Derrick Clark in October 2023. Mesner, a DMI vice president of operations, was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit federal offenses (18 U.S.C §§ 1349, 371). Clark, a DMI food safety superintendent, was convicted of conspiracy to commit federal offenses, document falsification in contemplation of a federal investigation, making false entries in a record within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and obstruction of an agency proceeding (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1519, 1001 (a)(3), 1505).

Didion Milling was required to operate “baghouses,” equipment designed to prevent particulate matter, such as corn dust, from being released into the environment from the corn mill. From at least 2015 to May 2017, Didion Milling employees, including shift workers and shift superintendents, made false entries in the mill’s “baghouse logs,” disguising data meant to monitor and document whether the mill’s baghouse equipment was working properly to filter particulates from the air. Didion Milling’s environmental manager provided baghouse logs for 2015, 2016, and 2017 to environmental inspectors, knowing that they contained false entries.

The company was also required under Occupational Safety and Health Act safety standards to develop and implement a housekeeping program to reduce the accumulation of fugitive grain dust within its corn mill. Didion Milling maintained a “master sanitation schedule” logbook listing each of the required dust cleanings and the specific dates by which the cleanings were supposed to be completed. The sanitation logbook contained spaces for Didion Milling employees to record that the dust cleanings had been performed and that documentation procedures had been followed. On May 19, 2017, Didion Milling employees falsely initialed, signed, and dated entries in the sanitation logbook for the week of May 1 through May 7, 2017, giving the appearance that the required dust cleanings were performed when they had not been. Didion Milling provided the sanitation logbook containing the false May 2017 dust cleaning entries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during its investigation of the May 31, 2017, explosion at the Didion Milling corn mill.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conducted the investigation.

United States v. Miguel Marcial Amaro, et al., Nos. 2:23-CR-00423, 424 (E.D. Pa.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Dan Dooher, ECS Trial Attorney Rachel Roberts, AUSA Joan Burnes, and former ECS Law Clerk Nate Borrelli

On January 25, 2024, a court sentenced Miguel Marcial Amaro to a 5-year ban from participating or being employed in Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)-licensed activities and Martin Ramos to a 2-year ban. Both pleaded guilty to making and using a false document, and aiding and abetting the same, for creating false calibration certificates in a matter within the jurisdiction of the NRC (18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(3)).

Marcial Amaro and Ramos both worked for a company that provided acoustic emissions (AE) testing to nuclear power plants. AE testing is designed to detect structural defects in the plant’s equipment. Following the testing, Marcial Amaro and Ramos both played roles in creating and transmitting final testing reports to the owners of the plants which, among other things, contained calibration certificates for the equipment used. Between 2010 and 2021, Marcial Amaro was responsible for ensuring that the company’s AE testing equipment was calibrated annually, and Ramos worked under Marcial Amaro as an engineer. During the same time span, in lieu of proper calibration, Marcial Amaro and Ramos each created numerous false calibration certificates for AE testing equipment. The false certificates were then sent to the owners of the nuclear plants, as part of final testing reports required by NRC regulations, on 29 occasions.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted the investigation.

United States v. Robert Yost et al., No. 2:21-CR-00467 (W.D. Pa.), AUSAs Eric G. Olshan and Jacqueline C. Brown, and SAUSA Perry D. McDaniel

On January 25, 2024, following a bench trial in October 2022, a judge rendered a verdict finding Robert Yost and Jacob Reese guilty on all three counts: conspiracy and substantive Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act violations (18 U.S.C. § 371; 7 U.S.C. §§ 136j(a)(2)(F), 136l(b)(2); 16 U.S.C. §§ 703(a),707(a)). Sentencing is scheduled for May 9, 2024.

Yost operated Yost Farms in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. In June 2020, Yost directed Reese, his employee, to spread whole kernel corn coated in carbofuran in and around a leased field used for soybean cultivation. The tainted corn killed approximately 17 Canada geese, ten red-winged blackbirds, and one mallard duck. They also tried to conceal their actions by destroying the feed bag containing the poisoned corn.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted the investigation with assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Updated February 14, 2024