Federal prosecutors charged Freedom Industries and six of its owners, managers and employees with criminal violations of the Clean Water Act related to the January 2014 chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people in Charleston and surrounding communities.
Dennis P. Farrell, William E. Tis, Charles E. Herzing and Gary L. Southern were each charged with three counts of violating federal environmental laws. Each man is charged with failing to meet a reasonable standard of care in running the company.
Their negligence resulted in and caused the discharge of a pollutant, that is, MCHM, from point sources into the Elk River, stated an indictment, unsealed today by U.S. Magistrate Judge Dwane L. Tinsley.
Farrell, Tis, Herzing and Southern approved funding only for those projects that would result in increased business revenue for Freedom or that were necessary to make immediate repairs to equipment that was broken or about to break, the indictment says. It says they failed to take any action to fund other repairs necessary for upkeep or improvements.
The charges against Farrell, 58, of Charleston; Tis, 60, of Verona, Pennsylvania; Herzing, 63, of McMurray, Pennsylvania; and Southern, 53, of Marco Island, Florida, were spelled out in a 37-page indictment handed up by a federal grand jury that met in Beckley this week.
If convicted, Farrell, Tis and Herzing face a maximum of three years in prison. Southern, who was charged with 10 other crimes, faces a maximum sentence of 68 years in prison.
Also, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin charged Freedom Industries, the bankrupt company, with the same three counts of criminal water pollution violations. The company was charged through a document called an information, rather than an indictment, a move that usually indicates the defendant has reached a plea deal with prosecutors.
Mark Welch, Freedoms chief restructuring officer, confirmed that the company had entered into a plea agreement with federal authorities and said the move was aimed partly at limiting the possible fines and criminal defense costs if the company were to be indicted. Welch, in a prepared statement, said the plea agreement also stipulates that the U.S. Attorneys Office will not seek restitution from Freedom for victims of the companys crimes, because of the companys ongoing bankruptcy proceeding.
This will permit Freedom to focus its time and limited resources on its environmental cleanup obligations and addressing the claims of its creditors, Welch said.
Two other former Freedom employees, plant manager Michael E. Burdette, and Robert J. Reynolds, an environmental compliance officer, were charged via information with one-count of violating the Clean Water Act. Goodwin said Burdette, 60, of Dunbar, and Reynolds, 63, of Apex, North Carolina, cooperated with the investigation and the disposition of their charges will be clear very soon.
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6 Freedom owners, managers, employees charged; company takes plea deal with feds