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Maryland Company Pleads Guilty To Wetlands Violations - Fine is Largest Ever Imposed in a Clean Water Act Criminal Case in Maryland

Release Date: 8/26/1999
Contact Information: Donna M. Heron, (215) 814-5113 & U.S. Attorney Warren Hamel, (301) 344-4433 or (410) 209-4800

ST. CHARLES, Md. -- The U.S. government and two real estate development partnerships have settled long-standing criminal and civil charges - resulting in the largest criminal fine ever imposed in a Clean Water Act case in Maryland - relating to the illegal filling of protected wetlands in St. Charles, Md., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore announced today.

In an August 26, 1999 plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Interstate General Co. (IGC), a publicly traded partnership, agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine for filling wetlands in the Dorchester area of St. Charles in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The company will pay $1 million in cash, with the remaining $500,000 coming in the form of donated land which will be used as part of the wetlands restoration project contained in the civil settlement. The criminal fine is the largest ever obtained in a CWA prosecution in Maryland.

In the civil settlement, IGC and St. Charles Associates, a related partnership, agreed to pay an additional $360,000 penalty for filling two other areas in St. Charles, and restore or create approximately 73 acres of wetlands. IGC has already restored approximately 10 acres of wetlands on two other parcels involved in the initial prosecution. The civil settlement resolves a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Today’s criminal and civil settlement shows that we take protecting our ecologically vital wetlands seriously. Development over the last 200 years has destroyed nearly three quarters of the original wetlands in Maryland. And Marylanders rightfully demand that we fairly and vigorously enforce the laws protecting the state’s remaining wetlands," said EPA Regional Administrator W. Michael McCabe.

Wetlands are a critical habitat for waterfowl, amphibians, and hundreds of plant species. Wetlands serve other vital ecological and economic functions -- including natural water filtration, flood control, reduction of fish-killing weed growth and algae blooms.

Both IGC and St. Charles Associates were controlled by real estate developer James J. Wilson. On February 29, 1996, after a seven-week jury trial, Wilson and his two companies were found guilty of knowingly violating the Clean Water Act by filling in approximately 70 acres of protected wetlands at four locations in St. Charles from 1988 to 1993.

The defendants allegedly dredged and filled forest wetlands despite warnings from their own contractors that these wetlands could not be developed without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On June 17, 1996, a federal judge in Greenbelt, Md. sentenced Wilson to a 21-month prison term and ordered him to pay a $1 million penalty. The court fined his companies an additional $3 million, and ordered them to prepare and implement a wetlands restoration project.

These convictions were overturned in December 1997 by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond which ruled that jury instructions used at trial and COE regulations concerning wetlands were legally flawed.

In its guilty plea, IGC admitted that the company had knowingly filled wetlands which were subject to the Clean Water Act. Additional details of the criminal and civil settlement are set out in the attached press release from the U.S. Attorneys Office.

Today’s settlement brings to a close a five-year multi-agency enforcement effort led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore. The team included staff, attorneys and investigators from the Department of Justice, Army Corps of Engineers, EPA’s Region 3 and headquarters, EPA’s criminal investigation division, and the FBI.