Air Conditioner Thief Sentenced To 31 Months For Violating Clean Air Act
COLUMBUS – Martin C. Eldridge III, 35, of Columbus, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 31 months in prison, 280 days of which has already been served, for violating the Clean Air Act when he cut the tubing on air conditioning units he was stealing and released a regulated refrigerant into the environment.
Carter M. Stewart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Randall K. Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O’Brien and Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs announced the sentence handed down today by U.S. District Senior Judge James L. Graham.
According to court documents, Eldridge and others stole at least 49 air conditioner units between August and October 2013 in order to sell the copper and parts from the units at scrap yards. When he cut the tubing that connected the air conditioner to the business or residence, a refrigerant known as HCFC-22 was released. The refrigerant is regulated under the Clean Air Act because it poses a significant threat to the Earth’s ozone layer. HCFC-22 is also known as R-22 and sold under the trade names of Freon, Genetron, Arcton and Forane.
Eldridge pleaded guilty in June to one count of knowingly venting HCFCs into the environment. He was also sentenced to 3 years supervised release.
Eldridge will serve the federal sentence concurrent with his state sentence on the theft charges. Eldridge has been in state custody since October 2, 2013. Following prison time, Eldridge will be under court supervision for 12 months during which time he must perform 200 hours of community service.
“The defendant's repeated theft of air conditioners and subsequent release of refrigerant into the atmosphere was illegal and a clear violation of the Clean Air Act,” said Randall K. Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “Today's sentence reflects U.S. EPA's commitment to protecting the ozone layer and the communities impacted by the defendant’s illegal conduct."
U.S. Attorney Stewart said this is the first federal case of its kind in the Southern District of Ohio. He commended the cooperative investigation by the Columbus Division of Police and U.S. EPA and the scrap metal theft task force, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Marous and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather B. Robinson with Franklin County Prosecutor O’Brien’s Office and Brad Beeson with the U.S. EPA, who prosecuted the case.