Former Oklahoma Official Sentenced for Concealing Violations of Safe Drinking Water Act
WASHINGTON—The former supervisor of the wastewater treatment facility in Ft. Gibson, Okla., Christopher Neil Gauntt was sentenced today in federal court in Muskogee, Okla., to serve six months home confinement for submitting false statements that concealed violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Justice Department announced. He was also sentenced to pay a $5,000 fine and serve five years probation following the term of confinement.
On April 29, 2009, Gauntt pleaded guilty to a one-count felony information charging him with making false statements in a monthly operational report submitted to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Gauntt, while serving as the supervisor at the Ft. Gibson Water Treatment Plant, submitted monthly operational reports for drinking water which contained false test entries for water turbidity and residual disinfectant levels. Oklahoma DEQ relies on the accuracy of information from wastewater treatment plant supervisors to ensure that water supplied by the Ft. Gibson Water Treatment Plant is in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and is safe for the public to drink.
Under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, which is administered and enforced by DEQ, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Fort Gibson water treatment plant must provide drinking water that meets standards to ensure that the water is safe for human consumption. Two of the standards that must be met include turbidity and chlorine. If turbidity, the measure of clarity of drinking water, or chlorine levels are not within levels required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, there is a potential risk that the water could retain micro-organisms that carry waterborne diseases including dysentery.
There was no indication that Gauntt’s actions caused any actual harm to individuals who consumed the drinking water from the plant.
"Falsifying environmental reports, especially those dealing with safe drinking water, is unacceptable," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This sentence should remind all of us that violating the public’s trust will result in prosecution and punishment."
"Accurate information about drinking water quality is essential to protect the public health," said Paula Brown, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement office in Dallas. "Those who submit false reports or bogus data undermine those efforts, and will be vigorously prosecuted. We are extremely pleased that this complaint was brought to our attention through EPA's ‘Report a Violation’ Web site."
"We have little choice but to trust that the water flowing from our taps is safe to drink," said Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. "When a treatment facility official falsifies records, that trust is violated. Along with our partners at all levels of government, the Office of the Attorney General stands ready to investigate and prosecute those whose actions place the public health and water safety at risk."
The Ft. Gibson Water Treatment Plant is subject to federal regulations and provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act as established and implemented by Oklahoma DEQ and enforced by EPA.
The case arose from a criminal investigation undertaken by the EPA-Criminal Investigation Division and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Daniel Dooher of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.