A.G. Schneiderman And Dec Acting Commissioner Seggos Announce Charges Against Onondaga County Business Owner For Allegedly Discharging Polluted Water Into Ley Creek

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

July 27, 2016

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Michael Jones, Owner of Coast Transportation And Recycling, LLC, Faces Up To 4 Years In Prison And Over $400,000 In Fines  

SYRACUSE – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the arrest of Michael Jones, 44, of Skaneateles, following the unsealing of an indictment charging Jones and his company, Coast Transportation and Recycling, LLC (“Coast”), with multiple environmental law crimes, including discharging polluted water into Ley Creek and failing to obtain appropriate state regulatory permits.  

An Onondaga County Grand Jury handed up a ten-count indictment charging Jones and Coast, an automobile salvage and scrap recycling facility located at 15 Dippold Avenue in the Town of Salina, with violations of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law (“ECL”).  The charges include a Class E felony for allegedly knowingly discharging pollutants without first obtaining a New York State Pollution Discharge Elimination System  (“SPDES”) permit.  The Honorable Thomas J. Miller arraigned Jones on the indictment today in Onondaga County Court and released him on his own recognizance. The defendant is next scheduled to appear in court on August 31, 2016.   

“My office will continue to protect New York’s waterways from illegal forms of pollution,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Protecting our state’s natural resources is essential to safeguard both the public health and local economies, and those who break the law will be held accountable.”

These charges are the result of an investigation conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”).

“The actions of the defendant in this case show a total disregard for the environment and for the safety of the community around Ley Creek,” said Commissioner Seggos. “I applaud the work of our Environmental Conservation Officers and the Attorney General’s office in ensuring that the state's laws are enforced and its environment protected.”

According to statements made by the prosecutor at arraignment, DEC’s investigation revealed that in February 2010, two underground storage tanks were removed from the Coast facility.  These tanks, which contained fuel oil, had leaked and contaminated the surrounding soil.  More than 500 tons of petroleum contaminated soil was ultimately excavated from the areas surrounding the underground storage tanks and stored on Coast’s property.  According to the prosecutor, the PCS was not removed from the Coast facility until October 2014, and neither Coast nor Jones ever applied for or obtained the necessary permit.  The ECL and DEC regulations allow the temporary storage of petroleum contaminated soil (“PCS”) on site, but only for a period of 60 days.  Storage of PCS for longer than 60 days constitutes the operation of a solid waste management facility and requires a permit issued by DEC.   Solid waste management facilities are subject to strict operational and closure requirements to avoid the adverse impacts to public health and the environment associated with solid waste. 

Also according to statements made by prosecutor at arraignment, DEC’s investigation further revealed that on May 15 and 19, 2011, liquid runoff from the soil pile flowed across the Coast property and into a storm water drain on Dippold Avenue, which ultimately discharged into a tributary of Ley Creek.  Laboratory testing by DEC revealed that the liquid flowing into the storm water drain contained the hazardous substances benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, and xylene.

Additionally, on September 18, 2012, Jones allegedly directed a Coast employee to set up and operate an electric pump to discharge storm water that had accumulated in the Coast parking lot into another storm water drain, which also ultimately discharged into a tributary of Ley Creek.  Laboratory testing by DEC revealed that this storm water contained motor oil.  Jones and Coast allegedly discharged the oil laden storm water without having obtained a SPDES permit or having a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan in place, both of which are required by the ECL. 

The indictment filed today in Onondaga County Court charges Jones and his company with one felony and nine misdemeanor environmental law crimes.  The felony charge carries a prison sentence of up to four years in jail and a maximum fine of $75,000 per day.  The misdemeanor charges include one count of operating an unpermitted solid waste management facility, which carries a maximum jail sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of $37,500 per day, and eight counts of Endangering Public Health, Safety or the Environment in the Fourth Degree, which carries a maximum jail sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of $37,500.    

The DEC previously filed an administrative enforcement proceeding against both Jones and Coast in June 2011, related to improper dismantling of vehicles at the yard.  An Administrative Law Judge found that both Jones and Coast had failed to conduct proper “fluid draining, removal and collection activities” at the Coast facility and had intentionally released fluids and discharged “petroleum onto the ground at the facility.” Jones and Coast were assessed a civil penalty of thirty thousand dollars ($30,000). 

The charges against Jones and Coast are merely accusations and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. 

The Attorney General thanks the DEC for their assistance in this investigation. 

Also assisting in the investigation was Investigator Joel Cordone of the New York State Office of the Attorney General and Deputy Chief Investigator Antoine Karam.  The Attorney General’s Investigations Division is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella. 

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Tarkowski of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau.  The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Gary Fishman and Deputy Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton.  The Division of Justice is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

If you witness an environmental crime, contact the NYSDEC 24-hour Poacher and Polluter hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267).