Prosecutors Investigate for Criminal Environmental Law Violations

Prosecutors investigated 952 individuals and organizations for criminal environmental law violations.

Federal prosecutors investigated 952 individuals and organizations for criminal violations of the nation's environmental laws during 1997, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced yesterday.

Fifty-three percent of the criminal inquiries were for violating wildlife protection statutes, the other 47 percent involved environmental polluters. The investigations resulted in criminal charges against 446 defendants.

Of federal environmental law defendants whose cases were concluded during 1997, 85 percent were convicted. Most of those convicted pleaded guilty.

About one-quarter of the individuals convicted were sentenced to imprisonment, the average term of which was 21.5 months, with half sentenced to a year or less.

The courts imposed fines on 64 percent of those convicted, averaging $2,710 for wildlife offenses and $124,035 for violation of environmental protection laws.

The federal government filed 207 environmental civil actions during 1997, almost all of which involved environmental pollution. During the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated 3,427 environmental administrative actions.

Between 1994 and 1997, the number of defendants charged with criminally violating environmental laws ranged from a low 343 in 1994 to a high of 546 in 1995.

Approximately 200 civil actions were litigated annually during this period, resulting in an average of $2.5 million awarded to the U.S. government in monetary awards or settlements.

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