Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

2014 ELK RIVER CHEMICAL LEAK ; Farrell Pleads Guilty; Ex-Freedom Industries Owner Faces 30 Days to 2 Years in Jail

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

2014 ELK RIVER CHEMICAL LEAK ; Farrell Pleads Guilty; Ex-Freedom Industries Owner Faces 30 Days to 2 Years in Jail

Article excerpt

Former Freedom Industries official Dennis Farrell on Tuesday admitted to two water pollution charges for his role in the January 2014 chemical leak that contaminated the drinking-water supply for hundreds of thousands of people in Charleston and surrounding communities. Farrell pleaded guilty to unlawful discharge of refuse matter into a stream and to negligent violation of a water pollution permit, as part of a deal with federal prosecutors.

"Guilty, Farrell said twice when U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston asked him for his plea to each of the misdemeanor counts.

Asked later by Johnston if he had any defenses to the charges against him, Farrell conferred quietly with defense attorney Mike Carey and then told the judge, "Not that we believe would be successful at trial.

Farrell faces a minimum of 30 days and a statutory maximum of two years in prison when Johnston sentences him at 2 p.m. on Dec. 14. He also faces fines of up to $200,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from his conduct, Johnston said.

Farrell originally had faced 3 misdemeanor water pollution counts related to the leak of Crude MCHM and other chemicals from Freedom's Etowah Terminal, located on the Elk River just 1.5 miles upstream from West Virginia American Water's regional drinking-water treatment and distribution plant.

Under his plea agreement, prosecutors said that, with the exception of costs of up to $92,000 incurred by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, "fashioning an order for Farrell to pay restitution to victims of his crimes "would unduly complicate and prolong the sentencing process to a degree that outweighs the need to order restitution.

The citizens group People Concerned About Chemical Safety has been asking that former Freedom officials who plead guilty or are convicted related to the leak be forced to pay restitution in the form of a donation to fund local water-quality or public health projects.

This morning, the last of six Freedom officials to be charged in connection with the leak is expected to enter a guilty plea. Former Freedom President Gary Southern faces three water pollution charges and 12 other bankruptcy-fraud-related allegations that he tried to hide his personal wealth from Freedom's bankruptcy case and separate civil lawsuits filed over the leak.

Along with Farrell and Southern, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his staff secured plea agreements with four other Freedom officials - William Tis, Charles Herzing, Robert Reynolds and Michael Burdette - and with the Freedom corporate entity.

Tis and Herzing pleaded guilty to illegal discharge of refuse into the Elk River. They face a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in prison, as well as fines. Burdette and Reynolds pleaded guilty to negligent pollution discharge and face up to one year in prison, as well as fines. …

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