McWane, Execs Sentenced for Environmental Crimes

A federal judge has slapped Birmingham, Ala.-based McWane Inc. with a $5 million fine for environmental crimes committed at its Birmingham pipe-making operations.

Judge Robert Propst on Dec. 5 sentenced McWane to pay a fine of $5 million and serve a period of probation for 5 years. In addition, Propst ordered the company to perform a community service project valued at $2.7 million.

The judge also sentenced James Delk, a former vice president and general manager; Michael Devine, a former plant manager at and current employee of McWane in New Jersey; and Charles "Barry" Robison, the company's vice president for environmental affairs.

The judge sentenced:

  • Delk to 3 years of probation, including 6 months of home detention and a fine of $90,000;
  • Devine to 2 years of probation, including 3 months of home detention and a fine of $35,000; and
  • Robinson to 2 years of probation and a fine of $2,500. Robinson also will serve 150 hours of community service work.

After a 6-week trial, McWane, Delk and Devine were found guilty in June of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act (CWA) by discharging industrial process wastewater into Avondale Creek in Birmingham through storm drains, in violation of their permit.

McWane and Delk also were convicted of 18 counts of discharging pollutants including hydraulic oil and sludge containing zinc and lead into Avondale Creek and eventually Village Creek, which runs into Bayview Lake, between May 1999 and January 2001.

Devine, additionally, was convicted of seven counts of discharging pollutants into Avondale Creek between May 1999 and January 2000.

In a related count, McWane and Robison, were convicted of making a false statement to the EPA by misrepresenting that various locations relating to wastewater management were acceptable when this was not an accurate description of those locations. Further, many of the purported inspections had not been conducted.

"The evidence at trial depicted years of illegal discharges and concerted efforts by company officials to hide those discharges from state and federal regulators," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney General for the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division. "The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to enforce the nation's environmental laws and to prosecute to the fullest extent those who seek to break them."

Another McWane employee, Donald Harbin, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate environmental laws connected with the operation of McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co. Harbin oversaw maintenance activities at the company during a period when it was allegedly discharging processed waste water into Avondale Creek in Birmingham in violation of a federal permit.

Harbin is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 19.

The case represents the third conviction of a McWane company in the past year. For more on McWane, read "McWane Division Hit with $4.25 Million in Criminal Fines for Worker Death, Environmental Violation."

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