Fumigation Company Sentenced, Owner Imprisoned After Illegal Pesticide Applications
AAA Pest Protection Inc. d/b/a AAA Pest Control, Inc. (AAA Pest), and owner William Robles, 59, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida were sentenced today in federal court in Miami before U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom in connection with the illegal application of pesticides to treat homes and other buildings for termites over several years.
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Andy Castro, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Criminal Investigation Division, Atlanta Area Office, made the announcement.
AAA Pest was sentenced to five years of probation, ordered to implement and enforce a comprehensive environmental compliance and employee training plan, and ordered to pay a $35,000 criminal fine. AAA Pest was also ordered to pay restitution to the victims of the crimes. Robles was sentenced to the statutory maximum term of imprisonment of one year and ordered to pay a criminal fine of $30,000. In a related matter, Judge Bloom previously sentenced Pierce Long, 53, of Oakland Park, Florida to a year in prison.
AAA Pest, Robles, and Long previously pled guilty to knowing violations of federal law stemming from their illegal applications of the restricted use pesticide, sulfuryl fluoride, contrary to the label’s safety requirements, in violation of Title 7, United States Code, Section 136j(a)(2)(G).
According to court documents and statements, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates the use of pesticides, including those designated for restricted use due to their potential adverse effects, including serious injury or death. Application of these pesticides is limited to certified applicators or those under the direct supervision of certified applicators. Sulfuryl fluoride, a commonly used antimicrobial agent in structural fumigations for termites, is one such restricted use pesticide, registered with the EPA. At the heart of the safe use of such pesticides is compliance with the product label, which includes written, printed, or graphic matter associated with the pesticides that dictates the safe application, aeration, testing, and clearance of the fumigant gas through the use of a properly functioning, maintained, and calibrated low level fumigant detection device.
The investigation revealed that on two separate occasions in 2016, AAA Pest and Long completed structural fumigations without providing residents with the proper warnings prior to introduction of the fumigant gases, did not use personal protective equipment for employees, failed to properly aerate the fumigated spaces, failed to post required hazard warnings, and failed to conduct clearance by ensuring that the fumigated space was free of the toxic gas before residents re-entered. In addition, Robles admitted that between March 21, 2013, and April 17, 2015, he failed to have the required, operable, and properly calibrated fumigant detection device for approximately 580 fumigations.
“Today’s sentencing sends an important message to companies, business owners, and employees that knowing violations of federal environmental laws will not be tolerated. Those who engage in such dangerous and reckless conduct will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in light of the serious consequences for the consumer public,” said Benjamin G. Greenberg. “The Southern District of Florida values its partnership with the EPA, Criminal Investigation Division and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and is committed to working together to investigate and prosecute these crimes to protect the public and ensure that companies who comply with the law are not placed at a competitive disadvantage.”
“It is critical for the health and safety of building inhabitants that pest control companies follow manufacturer instructions when applying pesticides indoors,” said Susan Bodine, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case demonstrates that EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to making sure that businesses apply pesticides legally and safely.”
Today’s sentencing includes the fourth individual defendant to be sentenced to the statutory maximum term of imprisonment in the District’s ongoing effort to address pesticide crimes. It is estimated that there were more than 25,000 structural fumigations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in 2017. The Court noted that these companies and individuals hold themselves out to the community as specially trained and skilled experts, and that families put their trust – and their lives - in the fumigators hands and should be able to return to such “safe spaces” as one’s home, without concern about whether the device used to measure if toxic gas remained in the fumigated space, was working and maintained as required by law.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the EPA and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi A. Mazer.