Tom Hindman/Getty Images
An unidentified worker at Freedom Industries shovels NAPA premium oil absorbent on Jan. 10, 2014 in Charleston, W.Va. West Virginia American Water determined MCHM chemical had overwhelmed the plant's capacity to keep it out of the water from a spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston. An unknown amount of the hazardous chemical contaminated the public water system for potentially 300,000 people in West Virginia.

Ex-Employees of Freedom Industries Plead Guilty in Chemical Spill Case

March 19, 2015
So far, four former employees of Freedom Industries in West Virginia have plead guilty in cases involving a chemical spill into the Elk River that left more than 300,000 residents without drinking water for several days.

Two former Freedom Industries officials, Michael E. Burdette and Robert J. Reynolds, pleaded guilty in federal court in Charleston, W. Va., on March 18 to environmental crimes in connection with the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that both men pleaded guilty to negligently discharging MCHM into the Elk River without a permit.  Sentencing is set for June 24,

At the time of the spill, Burdette was the plant manager and Reynolds was an environmental consultant for the company.  Both men could be sentenced to up to a year in prison and fines that could range from $2,500 to more than $100,000.

William E. Tis and Charles E. Herzing, former owners, officers and directors of Freedom Industries, Inc., pleaded guilty in federal court in Charleston on March 16 to an environmental crime in connection with the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill, said Goodwin. Both men pleaded guilty to causing the unlawful discharge of MCHM into the Elk River without a permit. Sentencing is set for June 22.

Tis and Herzing’s plea agreements, which include stipulations of facts in which they admit their criminal conduct, reveal that they could be imprisoned for not less than 30 days and not more than 1 year; could be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 per day of violation or a fine of $100,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss resulting from their conduct (whichever is greater); and a year’s probation.

Ex-Freedom owner Dennis Farrell and former President Gary Southern face trial later this year for environmental crimes related to the spill. Southern also faces charges related to Freedom's bankruptcy.

The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division.

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