Real Estate Developer Sentenced to Jail for Filling Protected Mississippi Wetlands
William R. “Rusty” Miller, a real estate developer from Fairhope, Ala., was sentenced today in federal district court in Gulfport, Miss., for the unpermitted filling of wetlands near Bay St. Louis, Miss., in violation of the Clean Water Act, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis for the Southern District of Mississippi and Special Agent in Charge Maureen O’Mara of the EPA’s Criminal Program in Mississippi.
Miller was sentenced to serve 15 months, with nine months in prison and six months in home confinement, to be followed by one year of supervised release. Miller also was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and to pay $19,246 in restitution. Miller was sentenced by Chief United States District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.
Miller pleaded guilty in December 2013 and admitted to having caused the excavation and filling of wetlands on a 1,710 acre parcel of undeveloped property in Hancock County, Miss., west of the intersection of Route 603 and Interstate 10. The charging document to which Miller pleaded guilty identified him as a part-owner of corporations that purchased and intended to develop the land.
According to the felony information, in 2001 when Miller and his companies acquired the property, he was informed by a wetland expert that as much as 80 percent of the land was federally protected wetland connected by streams and bayous to the Gulf of Mexico and as such could not be developed without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wetland permits typically require that developers protect and preserve other wetlands to compensate for those they are permitted to fill and destroy. In spite of additional notice he had received of the prohibition against filling and draining wetland without authorization, Miller hired excavation contractors to trench, drain and fill large portions of the property to lower the water table and thus to destroy the wetland that would otherwise be an impediment to commercial development.
In pleading guilty, Miller has acknowledged that he knowingly ditched, drained and filled wetlands at 10 locations on the Hancock County property without having obtained a permit from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hancock County Land LLC (HCL), the principal owner of the land, previously entered a guilty plea to related charges. HCL pleaded guilty before Senior United States District Judge Walter J. Gex III of the Southern District of Mississippi, who also imposed sentence. The corporation agreed and was ordered to pay a total penalty of $1 million, or $500,000 for each of the two counts. The corporation also agreed and was ordered to perform community service by completing wetland restoration and preservation plans ordered by the court. These require the defendant to replant with appropriate native vegetation the wetland area it excavated and filled, donate approximately 272 acres of the southwest quadrant to the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain to be preserved in perpetuity, to fund its management and maintenance, to pay $100,000 toward the litigation costs of the Gulf Restoration Network and to pay a civil penalty to the United States Treasury for the amount of $95,000.
The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division. The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Jeremy K. Korzenik of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gaines Cleveland of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.