EPA’s criminal enforcement authorities provide EPA’s strongest sanctions against polluters. Criminal penalties, with potential jail time as well as monetary fines, are critical to deter potential violators, eliminate the temptation for companies to “pay to pollute” and implement the felony provisions of our nation’s environmental laws. From more than 40 locations nationwide, more than 200 EPA criminal investigators (“special agents”) work closely with 150 scientists, attorneys, technicians, engineers and other specialists to uncover and develop cases for prosecution by Federal, state, tribal and local prosecutors. EPA’s special agents have full law enforcement authority to carry firearms, make arrests, execute search warrants and investigate violations of all the environmental statutes as well as associated statutes of the U.S. Criminal Code (such as conspiracy or tax fraud). Learn more about the Criminal Enforcement program.
On this page:
- Criminal Enforcement Results
- Activities and Accomplishments
- Engaging the Public
- Working with Other Law Enforcement Organizations
- Strategic Program Management
Criminal Enforcement Results
In FY 2010, the criminal enforcement program significantly exceeded its 2009 judicial outcomes for defendants charged and the monetary value of court-ordered environmental projects. The total number of criminal cases and annual results in any given fiscal year will, however, fluctuate based on specific characteristics of the cases investigated, as well as by the prosecutorial and sentencing decisions made by the Department of Justice and the federal courts.
346 Environmental Crime Cases Opened: In 2010, EPA opened 346 new environmental crime cases (an 11% decrease from 387 in 2009, but the second highest number of new cases since FY 2005). Of the newly opened cases, 34% supported OECA’s National Enforcement Initiatives and the criminal enforcement program’s priority areas (Stationary Air, Import/Export, long-term or repeated Civil Noncompliance, and the most significant criminal cases, based on such characteristics as the toxicity of the pollutant, the population exposed, and the profile of the violator.
289 Criminal Defendants Charged: Criminal charges were brought against 289 defendants in FY 2010 (45% increase over FY 2009 and the highest number since FY 2005). Of the 289 cases, 251 (87%) included charges against at least one individual defendant, as opposed to a business or corporation. The charging of individuals, where warranted by the evidence, is important, because the possibility of being sentenced to jail for an environmental crime provides significant deterrent effect.
88% Conviction Rate: Of the cases completed during FY 2010, 198 defendants either pled guilty or were convicted at trial. This was an 88% conviction rate, which is in line with EPA’s historical average of approximately 90%. Defendants can be acquitted for a variety of reasons, e.g., found not guilty at trial or having convictions overturned on appeal. In FY 2010, several defendants were acquitted after juries found them not guilty. Similarly, charges were dropped against several defendants after exculpatory evidence in their favor was entered into the record. Also during FY 2010, charges were dismissed against: a company that went out of business; a company whose senior managers were convicted; a defendant who died; and a defendant who entered into a pre–trial diversion and paid $50,000 in restitution.
$41 Million in Fines and Restitution: Criminal defendants were assessed a total of $41 million in fines and restitution (57% decrease from the $96 million in FY 2009). The 2009 figure was unusually high because it included a $50 million fine assessed against BP Products North America Inc. (PDF) (4 pp, 57K, About PDF) (BP) for conduct associated with the explosion on March 23, 2005 at its Texas City, Texas refinery which killed 15 contract workers and injured over 170 others. The FY 2009 BP fine was the largest criminal fine ever assessed under the Clean Air Act (CAA).
$18 Million of Court Ordered Environmental Projects: In FY 2010, courts ordered criminal defendants to pay $18 million for environmental projects (an 80% increase over FY 2009). The Southern Union Company was sentenced to pay the largest amount for a project, $12 million, as part of a sentence for illegally storing mercury at a company-owned site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The mercury was removed from the site by vandals and ended up contaminating a neighborhood residential area. The assessment included payments for a state emergency response fund and a children’s hospital. (Note: the case is currently on appeal) Court Ordered Environmental Projects represent the total monetary value of environmentally beneficial projects or other activities that a judge orders criminal defendants to pay for or undertake themselves.
72 Years of Incarceration: In FY 2010, individual criminal defendants were sentenced to a total of 72 years of jail-time, (down from 76 years in FY 2009). In addition to the 72 years of aggregate jail time, defendants in criminal cases investigated by EPA were sentenced to an additional 22.5 years in prison – not included in the annual statistics – after being convicted and sentenced on charges not directly related to the environmental charges against them, but resulting from evidence gathered during the environmental investigation (e.g., in past years, the additional prison sentences resulted from convictions for such crimes as theft or illegal drug manufacturing). In FY 2010, the additional jail time resulted from a child pornography conviction.
Note: As in past years, the total level of incarceration in FY 2010 also was reduced by Supreme Court decisions which made the U.S. federal sentencing guidelines discretionary rather than mandatory for use by federal district court judges. Mandatory sentences would have included 26 additional years of jail time.
Major Activities and Accomplishments
EPA’s criminal enforcement program continued to investigate and support the prosecution of cases that make a difference in communities. Several significant cases are listed below that show how criminal enforcement is helping to safeguard communities’ air and water and protect the public from hazardous chemicals are listed (see "Criminal Enforcement Case Highlights" for summaries of other significant cases that were completed in FY 2010):
Cleaning up Waters that Matter to Communities:
The Cosco Busan, a vessel owned by Fleet Management, LTD, crashed into the San Francisco Bay Bridge and discharged approximately 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.
The company pled guilty to a violation of the Oil Pollution Act as well as false statement and obstruction felonies. Fleet Management, LTD agreed to pay a $10 million fine, including $2 million for San Francisco Bay marine environmental projects, and to implement an Enhanced Compliance Program for its fleet of ships.
EPA has also been working with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to investigate the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Enbridge Oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.
Protecting People from Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals:
The Southern Union Company was sentenced to pay a total of $18 million for illegally storing mercury at a company–owned site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, including a $6 million criminal fine and $12 million in payments for various community initiatives, including the Rhode Island Foundation, the DEM Emergency Response Fund, and Hasbro Children’s Hospital. The mercury was removed from the site by vandals and ended up contaminating a neighborhood residential area. After the contamination was discovered, the apartment complex was evacuated, and its 150 tenants were displaced for two months while the company cleaned up the mercury. (Note: the case is currently on appeal.)
Participating in a multi-Agency enforcement initiative “Operation Catch-22,” EPA helped investigate and successfully prosecute illegal smuggling of hydrochlorofluorocarbon–22 (“HCFC-22"). HCFC–22 is a chemical that depletes the earth’s ozone layer which is vital to protecting people and the environment from harmful effects of UV radiation.
In one prosecution that resulted from Operation Catch–22, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida sentenced the Kroy Corporation of Miami, Florida and the corporation’s president, James Garrido for knowingly importing over 900,000 pounds of HCFC–22. Kroy Corporation was sentenced to five years probation, fine of $40,000 and a forfeiture of $1,356,160. James Garrido received 30 months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release and was required to pay a $40,000 fine.
Engaging the Public
Public engagement is critical to the success of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in finding violators and deterring potential violators. Through EPA’s Web sites “Report A Violation” (www.epa.gov/tips) and “Fugitive ” (www.epa.gov/fugitives). EPA has received numerous leads regarding potential wrongdoing and information on those attempting to flee justice. The information received from the Report a Violation website during FY 2010 has helped open seven active criminal investigations, one of which has resulted in an indictment:
The Tonawanda Coke Corporation (New York) and its Environmental Control Manager, were indicted on 15 counts of violating the Clean Air Act (CAA), four counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ( RCRA or Hazardous Waste Law), and one count of allegedly obstructing justice. The CAA charges relate to alleged failure to install required pollution control devices and for regular / continuous release of coke oven gas. The RCRA charges are for alleged release of coal tar sludge on the ground and disposing of rail tank car oil through the coke ovens. Citizens living near the plant had complained about health issues due to emissions from the facility. Note: an indictment is an allegation that a crime has been committed and a defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Working with Other Law Enforcement Organizations
Native Americans Law Enforcement
EPA’s criminal enforcement program expanded efforts to work with Native American communities to strengthen tribal environmental law enforcement capabilities. For the first time, EPA special agents and attorneys worked with DOJ and DOI agents to give three days of environmental and natural resources criminal enforcement training to approximately 500 tribal law enforcement Officers attending this year’s National Native American Law Enforcement Association (NNALEA) training meeting. Topics included: identifying environmental crimes; managing environmental crime scenes for safety and evidence collection; electronic surveillance and computer forensics using environmental and natural resources laws (such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Archeological Resources Protection Act); and building and referring cases to federal, tribal, and state prosecutors.
Interpol Addressing E-waste
Discarded electronic equipment or “e waste” including scrapped televisions, cell phones and computers contains a host of hazards such as lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and other toxics that can have serious health and environmental impacts. E–waste is a large and growing problem in developing countries, where an estimated 50 million tons of computers alone are disposed of annually and the unsafe methods used to collect heavy metals from these wastes pose significantly health risks.
To coordinate world-wide efforts to address this global problem, in FY 2010 EPA criminal enforcement co–organized and co–hosted the international INTERPOL Global E–waste meeting in Alexandria, VA to provide a three–day forum for more than 100 representatives and experts from 21 countries and 12 non–governmental organizations to develop multi–national enforcement strategies. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson addressed the delegation, calling for “legislative fixes” to help limit harmful exports posing as legitimate reuse and steps toward ratifying the Basel convention.
Strategic Program Management
During FY 2010, the criminal enforcement program achieved two milestones that will enhance its ability to investigate environmental crimes.
At the end of FY 2010, EPA had 206 special agents on-board and assigned to environmental criminal investigative duties. This successfully completed a 3-year hiring strategy to restore the Agency to the not less than 200 special agent staffing level cited in the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act. The Agency plans to maintain this special agent staffing level by using a forward thinking recruitment and retention strategy.
Criminal Enforcement Targeting Methodology
To best use its valuable resources, EPA criminal enforcement formally implemented a methodology to “tier” its cases primarily focusing on three categories based on human health and environmental impacts (e.g., death, serious injury, human exposure, remediation), release and discharge characteristics (e.g., hazardous or toxic pollutants, continuing violations), and subject characteristics (e.g., national corporation, repeat violator). While an emphasis on identifying, investigating and prosecuting most significant cases may result in fewer cases opened annually, it will focus efforts on the most important environmental and public health benefits and help deter illegal corporate and individual behavior.