Skip to main content
Blog Post

Environmental Crimes Bulletin - May 2024

View All Environmental Crimes Bulletins

Note: As of May 2024, the Environmental Crimes Bulletin has returned to a monthly format.


In This Issue:


AnchorCases by District/Circuit


District/Circuit Case Name Statute(s)
Southern District of Alabama United States v. AMVAC Chemical Corporation, et al. Pesticide Shipments/Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Southern District of California United States v. Fiona Skye McKenna Property Developer/Clean Water Act
  United States v. Gladis Isela Valdez Pesticide Smuggling/Conspiracy
Southern District of Florida United States v. John M. Kreatsoulas Reptile Sales/Conspiracy, Lacey Act
Southern District of Georgia United States v. Travis Martin, et al. Dog Fighting/Conspiracy
Eastern District of Louisiana United States v. Prive Overseas Marine LLC, et al. Vessel/Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, Conspiracy, Obstruction
Southern District of Mississippi United States v. Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, et al. Seafood Mislabeling/ Conspiracy, Misbranding, Wire Fraud
District of New Jersey United States v. Konstantinos Atsalis, et al. Vessel/Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships
  United States v. Hong Lee, et al. Wildlife Trafficking/Conspiracy, Smuggling
Eastern District of New York United States v. Eric Schneider Handbag Sales/Lacey Act
Northern District of New York United States v. Kyle Offringa, et al. Emissions Fraud/Conspiracy
Western District of New York United States v. Vyacheslav S. Migitskiy Boat Sinking/False Statement
Northern District of Ohio United States v. Mark Shepherd Wastewater Discharge/Clean Water Act
  United States v. Lucas Russell Vanwoert Animal Video/Animal Crush
Southern District of Ohio United States v. Ronald P. Bedra Animal Video/Animal Crush, Conspiracy
  United States v. David Owens Emissions Fraud/Clean Air Act
Western District of Pennsylvania United States v. Robert Yost, et al. Pesticide Misapplication/Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act
District of Puerto Rico United States v. Pedro Luis Bones-Torres, et al. Wetlands/Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Act
  United States v. Frankluis Carela De Jesús, et al. Wildlife Trafficking/Lacey Act, Smuggling
Eastern District of Texas United States v. TPC Group LLC Explosion/Clean Air Act
  United States v. Jesus Allen Stephens Dog Fighting/Animal Welfare Act, Conspiracy
Northern District of Texas United States v. Phillip D. Waddell, et al. Emissions Fraud/Clean Air Act, Conspiracy
Eastern District of Washington United States v. Pavel Ivanovich Turlak, et al. Emissions Fraud/Clean Air Act, Conspiracy, False Claims, Wire Fraud
Western District of Washington United States v. Tracy Coiteux, et al. Emissions Fraud/Clean Air Act, Conspiracy

AnchorAnchorTrials


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Tracy Coiteux, et al.

  • No. 3:21-CR-05184 (Western District of Washington)
  • AUSA Seth Wilkinson
  • AUSA Cindy Chang
  • RCEC Karla Gebel Perrin

On May 23, 2024, a jury convicted Tracy Coiteux on one count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) (18 U.S.C. § 371) and 11 counts of tampering with a monitoring device or method in violation of the CAA (42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(2)(C)). Sentencing is scheduled for August 19, 2024,

Her husband, Sean Coiteux, the co-owner of diesel truck maintenance and sales companies, previously pleaded guilty to tampering with pollution control software on hundreds of diesel trucks in violation of the CAA (42 U.S.C. § 7413 (c)(2)(C)). Sentencing is scheduled for June 24, 2024.

Tracy and Sean Coiteux own Racing Performance Maintenance Northwest (RPMN) and RPM Motors and Sales NW (RPM). RPMN pleaded guilty to violating the CAA, and RPM pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the CAA.

Between January 2018 and January 2021, the defendants directed employees to delete pollution control software and devices on diesel trucks they sold or serviced. The Coiteux’s companies charged between $1,000 and $2,000 for this work. Over a three-year period, the defendants serviced close to 375 diesel trucks, earning a total of $538,477 in fees.

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


AnchorIndictments


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Frankluis Carela De Jesús, et al.

  • No. 3:24-CR-00174 (District of Puerto Rico)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Patrick Duggan
  • AUSA Seth Erbe

On May 9, 2024, a grand jury returned an indictment charging four Dominican nationals with smuggling wildlife from the United States and Lacey Act trafficking (18 U.S.C. § 554; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(1), (a)(4), 3373(d)(1)(B)).

On May 3, 2024, Frankluis Carela De Jesús, Waner Balbuena, Juan Graviel Ramírez Cedano, and Domingo Heureau Altagracia traveled in a flagless vessel departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to the Dominican Republic. They intended to smuggle various species of tropical birds to the Dominican Republic to sell. When the vessel was approximately 30 nautical miles north of Puerto Rico, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) approached the vessel and witnessed the crew throwing objects overboard. Following the boarding of the vessel, USCG authorities recovered several of the objects thrown overboard identified as wooden cages containing tropical birds. Approximately 113 birds drowned after the defendants jettisoned the cages.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Customs and Border Protection conducted the investigation.

Birds drowned when thrown overboard
Case photo of drowned birds pulled from water near Puerto Rico after allegedly being thrown overboard by defendants.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Kyle Offringa, et al.

  • No. 1:24-CR-00124 (Northern District of New York)
  • AUSA Benjamin Clark

On May 15, 2024, a court charged Kyle Offringa and Highway and Heavy Parts, LLC (HHP), a heavy-duty diesel parts supplier, with conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) for tampering with emissions devices on diesel trucks (18 U.S.C. § 371). Trial is scheduled to begin on October 14, 2024.

Between June 2017 and March 2019, HHP and Offringa conspired with a diesel truck operator, and others, to remove, delete, and tamper with monitoring devices that were required under the CAA to be installed on heavy-duty diesel trucks. Truck operators delete the emissions control hardware on heavy-duty diesel trucks to allow them to run at higher horsepower, with greater fuel efficiency, and with reduced maintenance costs. HHP charged its customers a fee for Offringa to reprogram the vehicle on-board detection equipment so regulators would not detect that the components had been tampered with. Customers paid HHP between $1,250 and $1,750 for each truck Offringa tampered with.

Coconspirators, Patrick Oare and DAIM Logistics, Inc., previously pleaded guilty to violating the CAA and are scheduled for sentencing on June 21, 2024.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Phillip D. Waddell, et al.

  • No. 3:14-CR-00136 (Northern District of Texas)
  • AUSA Doug Brasher

On May 15, 2024, prosecutors charged ten defendants with tampering with pollution control equipment software in diesel trucks in violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) (18 U.S.C. §371; 42 U.S.C. §7413(c)(2)(C))). Named in the indictment are: Phillip Dwain Waddell, Philip Matthew Ormand, Kolby Douglas Huneycutt, Kyle Kris Kizer, Jonathan Joseph Lohrmeyer, Justin Loutoyama Pasamonte, Archie George Sims, and Adam Marsh Stanley, along with auto dealership James Hodge Motors, Inc. (doing business as Jay Hodge Dodge), and its Chief Operating Officer, Curtis Kevin Poore.

Between June 2019 and November 2021, Waddell sold aftermarket diesel exhaust components, tuners, and so-called “delete tunes” that allowed vehicles to override on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems. Operating normally, OBDs monitor vehicle emissions to ensure they fall below the limits set by the CAA. When an OBD detects excess emissions, it sends input to the vehicle’s on-board computer, which may activate an indicator light and place the vehicle in “limp mode,” capping its speed at as low as five miles per hour. With delete tunes installed, diesel exhaust systems can be modified so that OBDs cannot detect emission changes; thus, the vehicle cannot activate indicator lights, record diagnostic trouble codes, or place a vehicle into limp mode.

Waddell purchased delete tunes from Ormand to customize them for specific vehicles. From August 2018 to April 2021, Waddell paid Ormand more than $2 million for delete tunes, and sold them for between $300 and $1,350 each. Waddell’s customers included James Hodge Motors and several individuals who operated their own diesel repair and customization businesses.

Huneycutt, Kizer, Lohrmeyer, Pasamonte, Sims, and Stanley purchased tuners and delete tunes from Waddell and installed them on their customers’ vehicles in a process called “tuning” or “reflashing.” James Hodge Motors, acting under Poore’s supervision as Chief Operating Officer, falsified invoices to conceal the nature of such work it performed on customers’ trucks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Pavel Ivanovich Turlak, et al.

  • No. 2:24-CR-00057 (Eastern District of Washington)
  • AUSA Dan Fruchter
  • AUSA Jacob Brooks

On May 16, 2024, the court unsealed an indictment variously charging six defendants for tampering with pollution control equipment software in diesel trucks: Pavel Ivanovich Turlak; his companies PT Express LLC, Spokane Truck Service LLC, and Paul’s Trans LLC; Ryan Hugh Milliken; and his company, Hardway Solutions are charged with conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act (18 U.S.C. § 371; 42 U.S.C. § 7413 (c)(2)(C)). Turlak also is charged with six counts of wire fraud and false claims in connection with COVID-19 relief funding (18 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 287)

Between August of 2017 and November of 2023, Turlak and Milliken tampered with emission control monitoring devices on diesel pickup trucks, including both software and hardware modifications. The illegal software modifications involved “tuning” or “deleting” the trucks by tampering with the “on board diagnostic” (OBD) systems and disabling emission controls, which allowed the trucks to emit substantially more pollutants.

Milliken created and sold custom software “delete tunes” to Turlak for vehicles based on specifications provided by Turlak. Turlak then charged as much as $3,500 to diesel truck owners to “delete” and “tune” their vehicles by tampering with their pollution monitoring devices.

Turlak also fraudulently received more than $300,000 in federal funding designated for eligible small businesses during the pandemic.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, and the Spokane Police Department.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Jesus Allen Stephens

  • No. 2:24-CR-00008 (Eastern District of Texas)
  • ECS Trial Attorney Sarah Brown,
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy
  • AUSA Jim Noble
  • ECS Law Clerk Amanda Backer

On May 29, 2024, the court unsealed an indictment charging Jesus Allen Stephens with dog fighting violations. Stephens is charged with participating in a major dog fighting event in November 2021 in Waskom, Texas, possessing fighting dogs, and fighting dogs in an April 2021 dog fight (7 U.S.C. § 2156; 18 U.S.C. §§ 49, 371).

On November 13, 2021, Stephens organized and hosted a large-scale dog fighting event on family-owned property in Harrison County, Texas. Prior to the event, Stephens announced a series of 14 matches and sent GPS coordinates for the property to multiple individuals.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Harrison County Sherrif’s office conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, et al.

  • Nos. 24-CR-00045, 00046 (Southern District of Mississippi)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Jeremy Korzenik
  • AUSA Andrea Jones

On May 30, 2024, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House restaurant (Mahoney’s) in Biloxi, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misbrand seafood and wire fraud (18 USC §§ 371, 1343; 21 USC §§ 331(k), 333(a)(2)). Anthony Charles Cvitanovich, the restaurant co-owner and manager pleaded guilty to misbranding seafood (21 USC §§ 331(k), 333(a)(2)). Sentencing is scheduled for September 12, 2024.

Between December 2013 and November 2019, Mahoney and co-conspirators fraudulently sold approximately 58,750 pounds (more than 29 tons) of fish that was frozen and imported from Africa, India, and South America as local premium species. Between 2018 and 2019, Cvitanovich mislabeled approximately 17,190 pounds of fish sold at the restaurant.

The defendants and a wholesale supplier described fish on Mahoney’s menu as a premium higher priced local species, such as snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico. However, an investigation including genetic testing determined that the fish was of foreign origin, including Lake Victoria perch from Africa, tripletail from Suriname, and unicorn filefish from India.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations conducted the investigation.


AnchorGuilty Pleas


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Mark Shepherd

  • No. 3:24-mj-08002 (Northern District of Ohio)
  • AUSA Matthew Simko

On May 3, 2024, Mark Shepherd pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act for discharging pollutants and hazardous substances that killed thousands of fish in the Scioto River (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1319(c)(1)(A)). Sentencing is scheduled for August 12, 2024.

Shepherd owned and operated two trucking companies, Cessna Transport, Inc., and A.G. Bradley, Inc. On April 17, 2021, Shepherd negligently discharged approximately 7,000 gallons of a substance containing ammonia into the river without a permit.

Environmental authorities determined that the discharge killed more than 43,000 fish, including black bass, flathead catfish, sunfish, and minnows, valued at approximately $23,000. The contaminants flowed approximately 18 miles downstream from where Shepherd illegally dumped them.

A local fisherman reported the fish kill, which occurred in an area routinely used for recreational fishing. According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, a water quality sample taken in 2009 near the site of the fish kill listed the area as “Generally High-Quality Water.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office-Environmental Enforcement Unit, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.

Dead fish on riverbank
Case photo of one of thousands of fish killed after defendant discharged approximately 7,000 gallons of a substance containing ammonia into the Scioto River in Ohio.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Pedro Luis Bones-Torres, et al.

  • Nos. 3:23-CR-00440, 00186 and 00185 (District of Puerto Rico)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Patrick Duggan
  • AUSA Seth Erbe

On May 3, 2023, Awildo Jimenez-Mercado pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) for participating in illegal construction projects that involved dumping fill material into protected wetlands. Co-defendant Luis Enrique Rodriguez-Sanchez recently pleaded guilty to a CWA violation, and co-defendant Pedro Luis Bones-Torres pleaded guilty to violating the CWA (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1319(c)(2)(A)) and the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA) (33 U.S.C. §§ 403, 406).

Rodriguez-Sanchez owned a rock quarry, trucks for moving quarry material, and heavy equipment used in construction and earth moving. Bones-Torres was a licensed truck driver and owned and operated heavy equipment used in construction and land development. Between January 2020 and October 2022, the defendants illegally discharged fill material from excavation and earth moving equipment into the wetlands and waters of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR) and the Las Mareas community of Salinas, Puerto Rico. They also built structures (a dock and a concrete boat ramp) without obtaining the necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Awildo Jimenez-Mercado occupied one of the properties, which consisted almost entirely of wetlands within the Reserve. In 2020, Jimenez-Mercado filled it in, and built a 120-ft dock on the water. The property now contains a permanent home, a mobile home, an in-ground pool with a concrete patio, and a septic system. He rents the homes on Airbnb as "Hidden Paradise 2 and 3."

Officials with NOAA designated the JBNERR as a National Estuarine Research Reserve in 1981. The area is comprised of approximately 2,800 acres of coastal ecosystems in the Southern coastal plain of Puerto Rico. The JBNERR contains mangrove islands, mangrove forests, tidal wetlands, coral reefs, lagoons, salt flats, dry forest, and seagrass beds. It is also home to the endangered brown pelican, peregrine falcon, hawksbill turtle, and West Indian manatee. Rodriguez-Sanchez is scheduled for sentencing on June 10, 2024; Bones-Torres will be sentenced on July 24, 2024; and Jimenez-Mercado’s sentencing is scheduled for July 31, 2024.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Konstantinos Atsalis, et al.

  • No. 2:24-CR-CR-00307 (District of New Jersey)
  • ECS Trial Attorney Lauren Steele
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ken Nelson
  • AUSA Kathleen O’Leary
  • USCG SAUSA Katherine Ward
  • ECS Paralegal Chloe Harris

On May 7, 2024, two engineers onboard the MotorTanker Kriti Ruby pleaded guilty to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) (33 U.S.C. § 1908(a)). Sentencing is scheduled for October 22, 2024.

Konstantinos Atsalis and Sonny Bosito worked as the Chief Engineer (CE) and Second Engineer (SE), respectively, onboard the Kriti Ruby. SE Bosito ordered subordinate crew members to transfer oily bilge waste to the sewage holding tank and failed to record the transfers in the Oil Record Book (ORB). He also performed these transfers himself. Additionally, Bosito ordered the disposal of oily waste from the vessel’s incinerator waste oil tank into the engine room toilet, which emptied into the sewage holding tank. CE Atsalis authorized transfers of oily waste from the bilges to the sewage holding tank, and also directed crew members to discharge the sewage holding tank within 12 nautical miles of the nearest land, both of which he failed to record in the ORB.

The vessel arrived in Sewaren, New Jersey, on September 14, 2022, to offload gasoline cargo. On September 15, 2022, U.S. Coast Guard personnel boarded the vessel and performed a Port State Control exam. Among other findings, the boarding team discovered a wilden pump and several hoses coated in oily residue held in a void space in the engine room. During the investigation, the government obtained numerous videos and photographs of illegal activity in the ship’s engine room, including video showing the transfer of oily waste from the bilge to the sewage tank.

Atsalis pleaded guilty to two counts of violating APPS, one for failing to maintain an accurate ORB and one for discharging oily waste within 12 nautical miles of land without the use of pollution prevention equipment. Bosito pleaded guilty to one APPS violation for failing to maintain an accurate ORB.

The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Ronald P. Bedra

  • No. 2:24-CR-00048 (Southern District of Ohio)
  • ECS Trial Attorney Mark Romley
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Adam Cullman
  • AUSA Nicole Pakiz

On May 13, 2024, Ronald P. Bedra pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to violating the Animal Crush statute (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 48(a)(3)). Pedra worked with others to create and distribute videos depicting acts of extreme violence and abuse against monkeys.

The conspirators used encrypted chat apps to direct money to individuals in Indonesia willing to commit the requested acts of torture on camera. Bedra also mailed a thumb drive containing 64 videos of monkey torture to a co-conspirator in Wisconsin.

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


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. TPC Group LLC

  • No. 1:24-CR-00039 (Eastern District of Texas)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Christopher Costantini
  • AUSA Joseph R. Batte
  • RCEC Nathan Stopper
  • ECS Paralegal Maria Wallace

On May 21, 2024, TPC Group LLC, pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act (CAA) (42 U.S.C. §§ 7412(r), 7413(c)(1)). This case is part of a global settlement arising out of explosions that caused injuries, evacuations, and significant air pollution. The company has agreed to pay more than $30 million in criminal fines and civil penalties and spend approximately $80 million to improve its risk management program and improve safety issues at TPC Group’s Port Neches and Houston facilities.

On November 27, 2019, two explosions at TPC Group’s Port Neches facility prompted evacuations of thousands of residents from the City of Port Neches and surrounding areas, released more than 11 million pounds of extremely hazardous substances, and caused more than $130 million in offsite property damage and other impacts to human health and the environment. Four employees and one contractor suffered injuries including concussions, burns, perforated eardrums, tinnitus, and cracked teeth.

TPC Group’s facility produced Butadiene, a hazardous chemical used in the production of tires, latexes, and plastics. Butadiene can form a “popcorn polymer,” which can grow at an accelerating rate and cause catastrophic events, including explosions and fires. The company was aware that this polymer was forming in some of its production lines, and knew the risks it posed, but failed to take necessary measures to prevent the explosion. An initial explosion occurred at the facility’s South Unit, followed by a secondary explosion, and a series of fires erupted at the facility, blowing contaminants into the air.

As a result of the explosions, authorities ordered mandatory evacuations for residents within a four-mile radius of the facility. They issued voluntary orders to shelter in place for residents in the surrounding area and closed local schools for multiple days to allow buildings to be cleaned, repaired, and inspected.

Under parallel settlements to resolve the criminal and civil cases, the company has agreed to pay $18 million in criminal fines. The plea agreement also includes a one-year term of probation and issuance of a public apology. The $12.1 million in civil penalty payments will be made through bankruptcy proceedings. TPC Group has agreed to plead guilty to knowingly failing to implement its own written operating procedures, including monthly flushing of production lines, that would have prevented the explosion. CAA regulations require planning to prevent accidental releases of hazardous chemicals and make implementation of those plans mandatory.

Explosion at chemical facility
Case photo of chemical explosion at TPC Group's facility in Port Neches, Texas.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Hong Lee, et al.

  • No. 2:22-CR-00165 (District of New Jersey)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy
  • ECS Law Clerk Amanda Backer

On May 21, 2024, Hong Lee, one of nine defendants charged in this matter, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and is scheduled for sentencing on September 24, 2024 (18 U.S.C. § 371). Lee, a resident and citizen of Hong Kong, travelled to the United States for the sole purpose of pleading guilty.

Lee and co-defendants are charged with conspiracy to smuggle and mislabel large volumes of illegally caught European eel, a protected species facing a steep population decline. Lee served as an intermediary who received large volumes of intentionally mislabeled live European eel elvers that had been smuggled out of Europe, through ports in Hong Kong and Thailand where he could ensure they would be cursorily inspected. The elvers were sent to American Eel Depot’s factory in China, to be reared to maturity, slaughtered, packaged as a lawful species, and then smuggled into the United States for wholesale distribution. The smuggled wildlife in this case is worth approximately $11.5 million.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Customs and Border Protection conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Prive Overseas Marine LLC, et al.

  • No. 2:24-CR-00074 (Eastern District of Louisiana)
  • ECS Senior Litigation Counsel Richard Udell
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ryan Connors
  • AUSA Dall Kammer
  • AUSA Chrissy Calogero
  • ECS Paralegal Chloe Harris

On May 21, 2024, Prive Overseas Marine, LLC (Prive Overseas), and Prive Shipping Denizcilik Ticaret A.S. (Prive Shipping), pleaded guilty to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, obstructing justice, and conspiracy (33 U.S.C. § 1908(a); 18 U.S.C. §§1505, 371). Sentencing is scheduled for September 26, 2024.

Turkish company Prive Shipping originally served as the registered operator of the MotorTanker PS Dream. It then transferred its role to Prive Overseas, a United Arab Emirates successor corporation. The companies, through their agents and employees, conspired to dump oil residue waste overboard, failed to accurately maintain the ship’s oil record books, and obstructed the U.S. Coast Guard’s investigation.

Specifically, on January 11, 2023, a crew member from the PS Dream contacted the Coast Guard in New Orleans, which was the vessel’s next port-of-call and shared a video showing oil being pumped overboard and trailing behind the tanker. When the ship arrived in New Orleans two weeks later, this individual and another crew member provided additional photographic and video evidence to the Coast Guard. Prosecutors separately charged Captain Abdurrahman Korkmaz, a Turkish national who was the ship’s master.

The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.

Photo of ship PS Dream at anchor
Case photo of PS Dream, a ship involved in illegally dumping oil residue waste overboard.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Gladis Isela Valdez

  • No. 3:24-CR-00437 (Southern District of California)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Stephen DaPonte
  • AUSA Melanie Pierson

On May 23, 2024, Gladis Isela Valdez pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is scheduled for sentencing on August 13, 2024 (18 U.S.C. § 371). Valdez attempted to enter the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry on January 31, 2024, with 24 one-liter bottles of Taktic concealed in her vehicle. Taktic contains Amitraz, a pesticide whose registration is canceled in the U.S.

Those involved in clandestine marijuana grows 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.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. AMVAC Chemical Corporation, et al.

  • Nos. 1:24-CR-00043, 1:22-CR-00060 (Southern District of Alabama)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Kris Dighe
  • AUSA Michael Anderson
  • RCEC Jennifer Lewis
  • ECS Paralegal Chloe Harris

On May 24, 2024, AMVAC Chemical Corporation (AMVAC) pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for transporting hazardous waste (42 U.S.C. § 6928(d)(5)). Sentencing is scheduled for October 25, 2024.

AMVAC is a pesticide manufacturer that produced a pesticide called “Thimet” in Alabama and exported it to Canada, Australia, and other countries. Thimet is an organophosphate insecticide used to control crop pests by absorption into the crop plants themselves. In 2013, authorities determined that AMVAC was importing tens of thousands of used containers of Thimet through Savannah, Georgia; Port Huron, Michigan; Boston, Massachusetts; and Los Angeles, California. Some of the containers were nearly empty, while others were partially full. The containers were designed to attach directly to farming equipment and then returned to AMVAC after they were emptied.

The containers were not labeled as containing hazardous waste but as containing product (pesticide) for reformulation. However, AMVAC was not authorized by the EPA to reformulate the Thimet. The active ingredient in Thimet is “phorate,” a RCRA acute hazardous waste. AMVAC is a large quantity generator of hazardous waste, with specific, known responsibilities under RCRA. AMVAC subsequently told EPA that the pesticide in the containers was being imported for disposal. AMVAC failed to use hazardous manifests to transport the containers of waste Thimet to its Alabama facility. The plea agreement settles the case with AMVAC through a felony plea to knowingly transporting unmanifested hazardous waste.

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


AnchorSentencings


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. David Owens

  • No. 1:23-CR-00102 (Southern District of Ohio)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Adam Cullman
  • ECS Paralegal Chloe Harris

On May 13, 2024, a court sentenced David Owens to 30 days’ incarceration, followed by seven months of home confinement and one-year supervised release. Owens also will pay a $15,000 fine and perform 80 hours of community service. Owens pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the removal of emissions control devices from customers’ vehicles, in violation of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(2)(C); 18 U.S.C. § 2). Owens continued to break the law despite entering into a civil resolution with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for prior misconduct.

Owens co-owned and operated a diesel shop located in North Bend, Ohio. In 2020, Owens entered a consent agreement with the EPA for removing or rendering inoperative various emissions control devices. As part of this civil resolution, Owens agreed to cease removing these devices. Instead, Owens continued this activity through another company (called Cincy Diesel) operating at the same location.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation Environmental Enforcement Unit conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Fiona Skye McKenna

  • No. 23-CR-02249 (Southern District of California)
  • AUSA Melanie Pierson

On May 15, 2024, a court sentenced Fiona Skye McKenna to pay a $5,000 fine, complete a two-year term of probation, and pay $175,856 in restitution. McKenna pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act for falsifying permits (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a),1319(c)(2)(A))

McKenna was employed as a Project Manager by a property development firm. Her responsibilities included obtaining all necessary permits for the company. One of McKenna’s projects was known as the International Industrial Park project, located in the Otay Mesa area. In order to proceed with the project, the company intended to place fill dirt into Johnson Canyon Creek. The Creek flowed into the Otay River, which flowed into the San Diego Bay – a water of the United States. McKenna applied for a “401” permit, issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, and submitted a “404” application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to place fill dirt, rock, and sand into the Creek. Instead of waiting for the paperwork to be processed, she decided to submit information on those applications copied from other previously approved permits issued for similar work.

In October 2022, she received a grading permit from the San Diego County Land Development Office. As a result, between November 2022 and February 2023, the company discharged fill, dirt, rocks, and sand into portions of Johnson Canyon Creek, utilizing dump trucks and heavy-duty powered shovels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the California State Water Board Office of Enforcement conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Travis Martin, et al.

  • No. 3:23-CR-00007 (Southern District of Georgia)
  • SAUSA Jessica Rock
  • AUSA Jennifer Kirkland

On May 15, 2024, a court sentenced five defendants for their role in a large-scale dog fighting operation. Authorities also rescued 96 dogs while executing search warrants during the investigation. All five pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Animal Welfare Act (18 U.S.C. § 371).

Travis Martin will serve 24 months’ incarceration consecutive to a 200-month sentence he is currently serving as the leader of the drug trafficking conspiracy. Sentell Carey will serve 18 months’ incarceration and pay a $2,000 fine. Carey is already on probation in the drug trafficking conspiracy. Dennis Wilcher was sentenced to 30 months’ incarceration and will pay a $3,000 fine. Terry Gilmore will serve 23 months’ and pay a $2,500 fine. Jonathan Linder will serve 20 months’ and pay a $2,000 fine. All will be subject to a three-year term of supervised release upon completing the prison terms.

An investigation launched in 2022 by the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration led to a 27-count indictment charging 11 defendants with distributing methamphetamine and heroin across the county. While executing search warrants (and seizing large amounts of drugs, cash, and firearms) authorities also uncovered a dog fighting operation which spanned across three counties.

Between January 2020 and May 2022, the defendants participated in multiple dog fighting events. They communicated with one another, by telephone, text message, and other electronic means, about several topics, including the transport, delivery, transfer, exchange, purchase, sale, breeding, training, and receipt of particular fighting dogs. They also coordinated logistics relating to dog fighting events, discussing attending fights and arranging to fight different dogs. While executing the search warrants, authorities seized evidence including equipment and medication used to treat dogs injured during fights.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General conducted the dog fighting investigation with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service and local law enforcement agencies.

The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Southeastern Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force, conducted the drug investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. John M. Kreatsoulas

  • No. 1:23-CR-20480 (Southern District of Florida)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney Gary Donner
  • AUSA Tom Watts-FitzGerald
  • ECS Law Clerk Amanda Backer

On May 24, 2024, a court sentenced John M. Kreatsoulas to serve a year and a day of incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release, and to pay a $10,000 fine. Kreatsoulas may not engage in any commercial activity involving wildlife while under supervision.

Kreatsoulas pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally export thousands of turtles to Germany and China, and falsifying documents to conceal his conduct, in violation of the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. § 371; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(d)(1), 3373(d)(3)(A)).

Between July 2015 and July 2021, Kreatsoulas owned Omni Reptiles, Inc., a domestic and international wholesale wildlife trading company. The company sold protected species of reptiles (and other wildlife), which were shipped to Germany and China through Miami International Airport.

Kreatsoulas and co-conspirators collected and captured various species of turtles from the wild in Florida, including three-stripe mud turtles and Florida mud turtles. They sold them to buyers in other states and countries. Kreatsoulas attempted to conceal his activity, in part, by obtaining a Florida State license to maintain and sell “captive-bred” turtles to provide the appearance the turtles were legally obtained. Kreatsoulas also used a false “source” code on shipping papers as well as invoices that indicated the turtles were captive-bred.

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

turtle
Case photo of a turtle involved in the defendant's reptile sales activity.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Robert Yost, et al.

  • No. 2:21-CR-00467 (Western District of Pennsylvania)
  • AUSA Eric G. Olshan
  • AUSA Jacqueline C. Brown
  • SAUSA Perry D. McDaniel

On May 29, 2024, a court sentenced Robert Yost and Jacob Reese, following their bench trial conviction in October 2022. Both will complete one-year terms of probation. Yost will pay a $21,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service. Reese will pay a $5,500 fine and perform 50 hours of community service.

In January 2024, the judge rendered his verdict, finding the defendants 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)).

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, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted the investigation with assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Multiple dead birds on the ground
Case photo of multiple dead birds killed by tainted corn spread in field by defendants.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Vyacheslav S. Migitskiy

  • No. 6:23-CR-06199 (Western District of New York)
  • AUSA Aaron Mango

On May 29, 2024, a court sentenced Vyacheslav S. Migitskiy to time served, followed by one year of supervised release. Migitskiy will also pay a $5,000 fine and $14,194 in restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard. Migitskiy pleaded guilty to making a false statement regarding the sinking of a boat (18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2)).

On August 26, 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard received a report from a local mariner of a partially submerged vessel, a 1987 25-foot Bayliner, approximately a half mile offshore east of Little Pond in Rochester, New York. The Coast Guard responded and initiated an active search and rescue operation. Authorities determined that no individuals were on the vessel. They further found that the propellers and boat plug were missing, and someone had removed all electronics from the vessel. The Coast Guard spent more than $14,000 for its search and rescue efforts and the New York State Police spent close to $1,300.

Investigators subsequently traced the vessel to Migitskiy, who claimed that he had given it to unknown individuals two weeks prior. A witness confirmed, and surveillance video depicted, Migitskiy placing the vessel in the water, and then using a different boat to tow the vessel out into the lake, where authorities recovered it.

The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police, the Gates Police Department, the Rochester Fire Department, the Irondequoit Police Department, and the Greece Police Department conducted the investigation.

Sunken boat in water
Case photo of boat sunk by defendant.

AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Lucas Russell Vanwoert

  • Nos. 22-CR-00618, 23-CR-00665 (Northern District of Ohio)
  • AUSA Sara Al-Sorghali
  • AUSA Michelle M. Baepplerk

On May 30, 2024, a court sentenced Lucas Russell Vanwoert to 97 months of incarceration for creating an animal crush video, transporting obscene materials, and possessing and transporting pornography (18 USC §§ 48, 1465, 2252). Vanwoert will register as a sex offender and complete a 15-year term of supervised release.

Vanwoert created an animal crush video in 2022. During the execution of a search warrant, authorities rescued three severely emaciated dogs and one recently deceased dog in the backyard of the residence. Authorities also seized several electronic devices that were found to contain videos of child pornography, as well as animal crush videos.

Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.


AnchorAnchorUnited States v. Eric Schneider

  • No. 21-CR-00645 (Eastern District of New York)
  • ECS Senior Trial Attorney RJ Powers

On May 31, 2024, a court sentenced Eric Schneider to pay a $5,000 fine and complete a one-year term of probation, after pleading guilty to violating the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(1), 3373(d)3)). Schneider was the former general manager of codefendant Gzuniga, LLC, who received “Nancy Gonzalez” brand caiman skin handbags knowing the merchandise was illegally imported into the United States.

Gzuniga operated a showroom in New York, New York that sold “Nancy Gonzalez” caiman skin handbags to high-end retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Nieman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Co-defendant Nancy Gonzalez is a world-renowned designer of women’s accessories made from caiman skin. Gonzalez is the founder, owner, and principle of Gzuniga, LLC, and C.I. Diseño Y Moda (CDMI), the Colombia based company that manufactures her merchandise.

Following extradition from Colombia to the United States, Gonzalez and two of her employees, Mauricio Giraldo and John Aguilar, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and smuggling (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 545). On April 22, 2024, a court sentenced Gonzalez and Giraldo to 18 months and 22 months of imprisonment, respectively. John Aguilar was sentenced on April 26, 2024, to 21 months. A third employee, Paola Soto, was sentenced on April 12, 2024, to a term of imprisonment, which was later reduced to eight months.

bags with caiman and python skin
Case photo of illegally manufactured handbags in showroom.

View All Environmental Crimes Bulletins

Updated June 13, 2024