Two Men Indicted for Environmental Crimes Committed in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Las Mareas Community of Salinas, Puerto Rico
Today, in the District of Puerto Rico, a federal grand jury returned two separate indictments charging Luis Enrique Rodriguez Sanchez and Pedro Luis Bones Torres with violations of the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act related to the illegal construction and deposit of material into the wetlands and waters of the United States in the area of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR) and Las Mareas community of Salinas, Puerto Rico.
According to the indictments, from approximately January 2020 through October 2022, Luis Enrique Rodriguez Sanchez (Rodriguez Sanchez) and Pedro Luis Bones Torres (Bones Torres) knowingly discharged fill material from excavation and earth moving equipment into the wetlands and waters of the United States in violation of the Clean Water Act. Further, both Rodriguez Sanchez and Bones Torres are charged with building structures within the navigable waters of the United States without authorization of the Secretary of the Army, in violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act. These activities occurred in the coastal waters and wetlands of the Las Mareas community and JBNERR in Salinas, Puerto Rico.
“These cases demonstrate our commitment to protecting wetland ecosystems, which have many public and environmental benefits,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Coastal wetlands protect communities from storm surges and hurricanes, protect vulnerable species from exploitation, stabilize estuaries and provide natural water filtration that improves water quality.”
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing federal environmental protection laws and to holding violators responsible for the harm that they cause,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “These laws play an important role in protecting the animals, resources, and habitats within Puerto Rico, the Las Mareas community, and the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The unpermitted construction, pollution, and fill within the protected waters of the United States also poses flooding and hurricane mitigation concerns for surrounding communities. As such, they are a priority for federal environmental enforcement efforts.”
“Today’s actions send a clear signal that the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (DOC-OIG) is dedicated to investigating potential fraud, waste and abuse in projects receiving funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Lysaght of the DOC-OIG. “DOC-OIG greatly appreciates the cooperative efforts of our prosecutorial and law enforcement partners as we seek to enforce laws protecting the environment and natural beauty of Puerto Rico.”
The Clean Water Act was enacted by Congress in 1972 to protect and maintain the integrity of the waters of the United States. The Clean Water Act’s main purpose is to ensure the restoration and maintenance of the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. It prohibits the discharge of any pollutant and fill material into waters of the United States except when a permit is obtained from the United States.
The Rivers and Harbors Act was originally enacted in 1899 and is generally considered the oldest environmental law in the United States. It serves to regulate and protect the navigable waters of the United States and prohibits the un-permitted construction of structures within those waters. Both the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act protect the coastal waters within the JBNERR.
The JBNERR was designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve by the NOAA in 1981 and 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. The JBNERR is owned and operated by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PR-DNER).
Both Rodriguez Sanchez and Bones Torres were arrested and are scheduled to appear today before Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico for their respective initial appearances. If convicted, the defendants face up to four years in prison, as well as fines and injunctive relief to remove violative structures.
Various federal agencies are involved in this ongoing investigation related to environmental crimes in the JBNERR and Las Mareas community, including the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), FBI, U.S. Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division (Army-CID), DOC-OIG, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA-OLE), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement (FW-OLE).
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth A. Erbe, Environmental Litigation Coordinator for the District of Puerto Rico.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.