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Environmental Crimes Bulletin October 2023 Week 2

In this issue:

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 October 13, 2023, a jury convicted Shawn Mesner and Derrick Clark on violations related to worker safety which ultimately lead to an explosion that killed five employees and wounded others. Mesner, a Didion Milling, Inc. (DMI) vice president of operations was convicted of a fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to commit federal offenses (n18 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, false entries in a record within the U.S. EPA jurisdiction, and obstruction of an agency proceeding (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1519, 1001 (a)(3), 1505).

DMI pleaded guilty on the eve of trial to making false entries in a record within the U.S. EPA jurisdiction (18 U.S.C. § 1001 (a)(3)). Former shift manager Joel Niemeyer, and environmental coordinator Joseph Winch, each pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsifying documents in matters under the jurisdiction of OSHA and EPA (18 U.S.C. § 371). Former shift supervisor Anthony Hess pleaded guilty to obstructing an OSHA proceeding by making false statements to OSHA and the Department of Labor (18 U.S.C. § 1505). Two former company supervisors (Michael Bright and Nicholas Booker) pleaded guilty prior to the indictment to  making false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(3)).

DMI owned and operated a corn mill in Cambria, Wisconsin. Corn dust is combustible and can fuel explosions if mixed with air in a sufficient concentration and exposed to an ignition source. OSHA standards require grain facilities to develop and implement effective “housekeeping” programs to remove accumulations of dust and prevent explosions. EPA regulations further required DMI to operate and maintain baghouses to reduce grain dust emissions. DMI’s failure to comply with these standards caused the deaths of five employees following an explosion at the mill on May 31, 2017.

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

United States v. Rene Morales, et al., No. 2:21-CR-00199 (D. Nev.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Cassie Barnum, AUSA Jean Ripley, and Paralegal Jillian Grubb

On October 10, 2023, a court sentenced Hector Vasquez and Rene Morales to six months’ incarceration, followed by one year of supervised release. Both pleaded guilty to negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act (CAA) (42 U.S.C. § 7413 (c)(4)). Morales also will complete 100 hours of community service.

Between September 2017 and August 2018, the defendants hired workers to tear out ceiling and wall texture from a warehouse they knew had asbestos-containing materials. They directed the workers to store the debris in open, dry bags at another room in the facility. Following an unannounced site inspection, inspectors discovered approximately 200 bags of dry, asbestos-containing debris. Morales and Vasquez both attempted to blame a third party for the illegal removal.

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

United States v. John Waldrop et al., No. 23-CR-00378 (E.D.N.Y.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ryan Connors, AUSA Anna Karamigios, and ECS Paralegal Sam Goins

On October 11, 2023, a court unsealed an indictment charging Dr. John Waldrop and Toney Jones with conspiracy, smuggling, violating the Endangered Species Act, and money laundering conspiracy for their roles in illegally importing thousands of taxidermied birds and preserved eggs into the United States (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 545; 16 U.S.C. §§ 1538(e), 1540(b)(1); 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h)).

Between 2015 and 2020, Dr. Waldrop sought to create a collection of museum-quality bird mounts, including protected species. Dr. Waldrop recruited Jones and others to help him purchase more than $1,200,000 worth of birds from around the world. They coordinated with middlemen and poachers to kill specific species of protected birds for the collection.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation as part of Operation Final Flight.

Environmental Crimes Bulletin

Updated December 15, 2023