Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) and its former president Matthew L. Bowman have been charged with conspiracy to illegally transport hazardous materials, resulting in the deaths of two employees, in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Beaumont, Texas, yesterday, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and John M. Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
The 13-count indictment describes a scheme in which hazardous materials were transported illegally with false documents and without placards, and where workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases. The exposure resulted in the deaths of two employees, who were truck drivers, at the PACES facility on Dec. 18, 2008, and April 14, 2009. Both deaths are attributed to exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
The defendants were charged with a conspiracy to violate the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (HMTUSA) and two counts of failure to implement appropriate controls to protect employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act. The defendants are also charged with transportation of hazardous materials without placards and with false documents in violation of HMTUSA, violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and making false statements.
According to the indictment, Bowman was president and owner of PACES, located in Port Arthur, Texas, and CES Environmental Services (CES) located in Houston. PACES was in operation from about November 2008 to November 2010 and was in the business of producing and selling caustic materials to paper mills. The production of caustic materials involved hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is classified as a poisonous gas by HMTUSA. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, hydrogen sulfide is an acute toxic substance that is the leading cause of sudden death in the workplace. Employers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement engineering and safety controls to prevent employees from exposure above harmful limits.
According to the indictment, Bowman was responsible for, among other duties, approving and directing PACES production operations, the disposal of hydrogen sulfide wastewater, employee safety precautions, directing the transportation of PACES wastewater, and determining what safety equipment could be purchased or maintained.
Both PACES and CES have filed for bankruptcy.
The conspiracy and substantive counts of the indictment each carry a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, and a $500,000 maximum fine for the corporation.
The allegations in the indictment are mere accusations and all persons are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case is being investigated by EPA Criminal Investigation Division; the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - Environmental Crimes Unit; and the Houston Police Department - Major Offenders, Environmental Investigations Unit; with assistance from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department - Environmental Crimes Unit; the Travis County, Texas, District Attorney’s Office; the Harris County, Texas, District Attorney’s Office; the Houston Fire Department; OSHA; the U.S. Coast Guard; the Port Arthur Police Department; and the Port Arthur Fire Department.
The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division, and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.