sentenced for Clean Water Act felonies
Three officials of Ecological Systems, Inc.
(ESI), an oil reclamation company that operated a centralized
waste treatment facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, were sentenced
in United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana
for felony violations of the Clean Water Act. The prosecution
stemmed from ESI’s intentional discharges of untreated wastewater
and stormwater from its facility directly into the Indianapolis
Joe Biggio, ESI’s former operations manager and executive vice
president, was sentenced to 3 years probation, a $15,000 fine,
and community service, after having previously pled guilty to
two counts of CWA criminal violations and one violation of the
federal false statements statute, 18 U.S.C. 1001. Biggio’s community
service requires him to lecture graduate students seeking degrees
in business management regarding his case and criminal conviction.
Mike Milem, former operations manager, was sentenced to 6 months
home detention, 3 years probation, a $5,000 fine and community
service, after he previously pled guilty to one criminal violation
of the CWA. Similarly to Biggio, Milem’s community service requires
him to lecture students in Indiana colleges regarding his case
and criminal conviction.
Mark Snow, former lab manager of ESI, was sentenced to 3 years
probation, a $5,000 fine and 8 hours of community service per
month during the duration of probation, after he also pled guilty
to one criminal CWA violation.
In addition, all three defendants are prohibited from applying
for any environmental license or employment in the environmental
field without disclosing their felony convictions to any such
licensing board or prospective employer.
The investigation began after the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management received complaints from several Indianapolis homeowners
that thick, oily wastewater was flowing into their yards from
sewer manholes after a heavy rainfall on February 11, 2009. ESI
was required to have sufficient storage capacity to handle wastewater
from this type of wet weather event, but it did not.
In order to deal with the excess wastewater, Milem and Snow decided
to directly discharge untreated oily wastewater into the Indianapolis
sewer system by pumping wastewater through hoses that bypassed
ESI’s treatment processes. As a result, the wastewater received
no treatment, and was discharged into the sewer system leading
to the City of Indianapolis’ wastewater treatment plant. The
discharge continued for approximately 8 hours and resulted in
a discharge of approximately 300,000 gallons of untreated wastewater.
In the hours after this discharge, the oily sludge-like waste
emerged from several sewer manholes downstream of the ESI facility,
contaminating residential properties.
The subsequent investigation revealed that ESI had not been adequately
treating the waste it took from customers for reclamation for
a significant period of time, in part because major pieces of
equipment in the treatment process, such as pumps, needed to
be repaired or replaced, and because badly-needed storage space
was not available at the facility. Investigators also determined
that ESI had misrepresented to EPA and Indiana the storage capacity
it had to handle such a rainfall event as the one that occurred
on February 11, 2009.
Biggio, as the executive vice president of operations, knew that
ESI was hiding its noncompliance in several ways. Instead of
reporting all of its wastewater samples to the city, as required
by its permit, he “cherry picked” the data and only reported
the “best” samples, with analytic results that reflected lower
concentrations of certain pollutants. Similarly, wastewater was
collected after rainfalls, resulting in diluted samples that
could be reported as “lower” pollution levels to the city. This
practice of submitting false sampling results, along with making
false statements to the authorities, attempted to disguise the
fact that pollution discharge limits were being exceeded on a
regular basis. The company’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure
Plan stated it had millions of gallons more capacity than actually
existed to handle spills and rain events.
The case was investigated by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division,
the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and the Indiana
Department of Natural Resources. It was prosecuted by the Office
of the United States Attorney, Southern District of Indiana.