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Scofflaws' Just Deserts

by Ivan Amato
September 14, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 37

In the shadows:
Credit: Shutterstock
Pollution is sometimes sent down the drain.
Credit: Shutterstock
Pollution is sometimes sent down the drain.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) goes after society's bad guys. Last month alone, for example, prosecutors sent a man to jail for selling bald eagle feathers, indicted three men for conspiring to import Thai nationals to perform forced labor on a Hawaiian farm, and secured guilty pleas from two defendants in a scheme to sell counterfeit oil-field pipe couplings. Truth be told, some of the bad guys out there are committing what could be called CHEMICAL CRIMES. Here are a few summertime cases.

Consider William Garvey, president of the St. Joseph, Mo.-based pesticide company HPI Products. From the company's get-go in 1980, according to a DOJ statement, HPI employees under Garvey's supervision "disposed of wastewaters from the production of pesticides down floor drains and into the city of St. Joseph's sewer systems." This practice, which violates the Clean Water Act, had gone on for 27 years until inspections in 2007 by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources put a stop to it. HPI Vice President Hans Nielsen pled guilty for, according to DOJ, "violating federal pesticide laws designed to provide proper regulatory oversight and prevent improper storage of pesticides."

On Sept. 1, Garvey was fined $100,000 and sentenced to six months in prison and another six months of home confinement. Nielsen faces up to a year in prison and a fine of at least $100,000.

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

For their part in a nationwide biochemical bait-and-switch crime affecting about 1,000 patients, five doctors, a nurse, and an administrator with the Plastic Surgery Group (TPSG), in Albany, N.Y., pled guilty on Aug. 11 for substituting a less expensive, non-Food & Drug Administration-approved version of Allergan's Botox Cosmetic—the only approved version of botulinum toxin for temporarily reducing interbrow frown lines. Throughout 2004, TPSG administered a product made by Tucson, Ariz.-based Toxin Research International to 150 patients, even though the medical group used brochures, promotional materials, and consent forms that led its patients to believe they were receiving the FDA-approved product.

According to an FDA synopsis of the Botox scam, the agency's Office of Criminal Investigations first caught wind of the problem in late 2004 when four patients in Oakland Park, Fla., became temporarily paralyzed after receiving what they thought were Botox treatments.

The plastic surgery practice faces a fine of $500,000, and the individual defendants could spend up to one year in jail and pay fines up to $100,000 when they are sentenced in December. The investigation has led to several dozen convictions.

It's getting harder to illegally dump oily waste at sea these days. After an investigation by the Coast Guard, a Spanish company operating the chemical tanker ship M/T Nautilus pled guilty on July 27 to illegally discharging oil-contaminated bilge waste on the high seas. Rather than following the operating requirement of using onboard oil-water separators to treat oil-contaminated bilge before discharging it, senior engineers of the tanker, according to a DOJ statement, "directed subordinate engine-room crew members to use a metal pipe to bypass the ship's oil-water separator and instead to discharge the oil-contaminated water directly overboard."

The company also pled guilty to falsifying records to hide their polluting ways. The ship's operator, Consultores de Navegacion, was sentenced to pay more than $2 million and "to implement comprehensive environmental compliance plans to prevent future violations." The two responsible engineers in the infraction received different prison terms: one month and one week, and one of them was fined $2,000.

Ivan Amato wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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