One Louisiana wastewater company owner will serve time in prison and another has been put on probation after both were sentenced in unrelated cases involving illegal discharges and other violations.
Prison Term Ordered
On June 8, a federal-court judge sentenced Jeffrey Pruett, 58, of West Monroe, LA, to a total of 33 months in prison and fined him and his companies a total of $850,000.
Pruett was Chief Executive Officer of LWC Management Company Inc. (LWC) and Principal Officer of Louisiana Land & Water Company (LLWC).
Pruett’s companies operated more than 30 public water supply system units and wastewater treatment units in eastern Louisiana, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Permitting Felonies Charged
Pruett was charged with violating his company’s state discharge permits by not providing monitoring results, violating effluent discharge limits, operating without a permit, having unpermitted discharges, and failing to provide proper operation and maintenance for his units, according to DEQ.
His companies faced the same felony charges, along with civil penalties from DEQ for permit violations. The facilities had had “numerous compliance issues,” DEQ said.
In January, a federal jury convicted Pruett and the companies of a total of seven felonies and one misdemeanor, including failure to provide and maintain records, illegal discharge of pollutants, and improper operation and maintenance of a facility.
Pruett’s 21-month sentence on the felony convictions and 12-month sentence on the misdemeanor will run concurrently. He begins his sentence July 18. After he is released from prison, Pruett will serve one year of supervised release.
‘Disregard for the Law’
Pruett’s companies had provided sewer and wastewater treatment plant services to a number of subdivisions in the region since April 1999. The state had received numerous customer complaints about sewage backups at residences; cloudy, tainted tap water; sewage discharges into roadside ditches near residences; and improper termination of residents’ sewage and water services.
A receiver was appointed Friday (June 10) to run Pruett’s companies temporarily, and the appointment is expected to become permanent on June 20, a DEQ spokeswoman said Monday. Service to customers continues.
"Mr. Pruett’s disregard for the law led to sewage backups in people’s homes and endangered public health,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant EPA Administrator. “Today’s sentence proves that those who knowingly break environmental laws will be held accountable for their criminal actions.”
New Orleans Owner Sentenced
The former owner of a now-defunct wastewater treatment facility in Vacherie, LA, has been sentenced on one count involving violations of his facility’s Louisiana Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit.
Charles Earnest Toth, Jr., 46, owner and president of Armant Environmental Services LLC (AES), also pleaded guilty to operating his facility in a manner that allowed for an illegal discharge.
AES pleaded guilty to allowing illegal dumping of untreated wastewater on the ground, bypassing proper treatment by breaking a pipe, and failing to operate and maintain a proper treatment system.
Judge Alvin Turner, Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District Court of Louisiana, fined Toth $5,000 and sentenced him to two years of unsupervised probation.
AES was fined $150,000 and ordered to pay an additional $45,000 to DEQ and local beautification groups.
DEQ’s Criminal Investigation Division arrested Toth in June 2009 after an investigation found that AES was routinely dumping loads of untreated wastewater on the ground, thereby bypassing its treatment facility at AES.
Soil samples showed chemicals related to oil and petroleum products around broken pipes on the ground.
“The 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office is pleased with the guilty plea taken today in State of Louisiana versus Charles Toth and Armant Environmental Services,” said District Attorney Ricky Babin. “Environmental crimes are as much a risk to public health and safety as other more traditional offenses we prosecute.”