Attorney General Cuomo Announces Former Executive Vp Of Orange County Chemical Company Indicted For Releasing Hazardous Substances And Endangering Public Health

ALBANY, NY (April 30, 2009) Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the indictment of a former executive vice president and long-time manager of the now abandoned Westwood Chemical Corporation in the town of Wallkill, Orange County.

According to court papers between 1999 and 2004, Rocco Giovannielo, 58 of Port Jervis, knowingly released harmful chemicals including potassium cyanide, arsenic trioxide, and toxic levels of silver from the Westwood Chemical Plant.

“For any person to knowingly release hazardous chemicals into the environment is the height of professional and personal irresponsibility,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “My office will vigorously enforce environmental laws that protect the health and safety of the people of Orange County and across New York.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said, “Today's case is another display of the hard work of our environmental law enforcement division. Our investigators joined with the state Attorney General’s Office to ensure that environmental crimes are pursued appropriately, and that parties are held accountable for their actions. Our officers will continue to work hard to protect the state's natural resources for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”

Giovannielo was charged in Orange County Supreme Court with two counts of Endangering Public Health, Safety, or the Environment in the Second Degree (D felony) two counts of Endangering Public Health, Safety, or the Environment in the Third Degree (E felony) and one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (E felony). The charges carry a maximum penalty of 22 years in prison. He was released on his own recognizance pending a future court appearance.

Westwood manufactured and marketed chemicals for the cosmetics and water treatment industries, resulting in significant quantities of hazardous laboratory waste, chemical products and wastewater.

Today's indictment follows previous action taken by the Attorney General's Office to address environmental and public safety concerns related to Westwood. In May, 2007, the Attorney General’s Office reached a settlement with HSBC Bank USA, NA to pay $850,000 in penalties and $68,000 in reimbursements to the State for the costs incurred in cleaning up the facility after it was closed. HSBC seized Westwood’s operating funds in 2004 and the facility was subsequently forced to close its doors, leaving behind hundreds of containers of abandoned chemicals within and outside the building. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, then removed the chemicals. The Attorney General alleged that HSBC knew of the abandoned chemicals - as well as substantial fire and explosion risks they posed - but did not contact the DEC or any state or local emergency responder to report the threat, as required by New York law.

Attorney General Cuomo thanked the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation for its assistance in the investigation.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General James Woods under the supervision of Criminal Prosecutions Bureau Deputy Chief Richard Ernst and Bureau Chief Gail Heatherly. The investigation was conducted by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation.

The charges against Giovannielo are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.