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Welcome to the Inaugural Flower Power Roundup

A deep dive into the EPA’s Quarterly Crime Bulletin

Maybe like me you were surprised to learn the US Environmental Protection Agency uses actual special agents to hunt down criminal polluters.

“It’s traditional law enforcement in a non-traditional area,” former EPA Criminal Investigation Division Director Doug Parker told me for an investigation into biofuel fraud. “Some of us called ourselves the power behind the flower,” Parker said of the self-appointed moniker used by some agents in a nod to the agency’s logo.

Even cooler, the EPA communications team compiles a quarterly crime bulletin, detailing relevant enforcement actions. The quarterly dispatch offers a fascinating window into the work of the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training.

While the US hasn’t seen a spike in organized environmental crime like the rest of the world, there’s plenty of toxic independent actors starring in the EPA crime bulletin. Another takeaway is that eco-cops walking the green beat are often all that stand between us and America’s next cancer cluster.

Here are two “highlights” from earlier this year.

Case1: A Pack of Lone Wolves

On February 22nd, a US District Judge sentenced Kenneth Fulton of Oklahoma to two years of probation and a $10,000 fine. In 2017, the City of El Reno, Oklahoma hired Veolia North America to manage its water treatment plant. As plant manager for Veolia, Fulton faked tests that showed high levels of e. coli the company was discharging into a nearby river. He did this to purposely deceive EPA and Oklahoma regulators. E. coli infections are dangerous, can cause bloody diarrhea and are particularly damaging to children and the elderly.

In a statement, Veolia called Fulton’s crime “lone-wolf actions by a former employee.” But Fulton’s case doesn’t seem to be an isolated event. In this deeply reported piece in the Oklahoma Watch, M. Scott Carter made a compelling case that Veolia North America is a serial polluter with a culture of corporate malfeasance.

For three Oklahoma communities, the issues with water and wastewater became so large they frightened residents and evolved into an ongoing nightmare for city officials — a nightmare the cities spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars trying to fix.

At first glance, the water problem in each town seemed unique, but underneath there was a common thread: a private water company called Veolia North America.

Communities in Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania have experienced similar problems — or worse — with Veolia’s water management. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Veolia with fraud and negligence for failing to discover Flint’s lead contamination problem after the city hired the company in 2015 to consult on water quality.

Federal court records show that Veolia North America faces 309 open federal lawsuits. In Oklahoma, the company is fighting six open lawsuits.

Case 2: To Catch a Predator

This next case shows how environmental crimes are often bundled with other illegal activities like tax fraud and customs violations. Former mail carrier Christopher Cox of Tacoma Washington was sentenced on January 28th to a paltry two months in prison for pleading guilty to three felonies.

Between 2015 and January 2019, Cox falsified required paperwork on vehicles he imported from overseas that did not meet U.S. safety and emissions standards. He used his status as a contract mail carrier to circumvent inspections at the Port of Tacoma and took the vehicles from the Port without proper inspections. But that’s not the worst part. From the DOJ release:

When law enforcement officers served search warrants on Cox’s electronic accounts, they observed images of child pornography.  Some of the images are known series of images of child rape and abuse manufactured outside the State of Washington.  When officers executed search warrants on Cox’s residence and obtained his electronic devices, they located 142 images and 2 videos of child molestation, rape and abuse.

A pass on environmental crimes is sadly du jour for our current society. Prosecutors had asked for a two-year stint in prison at minimum for this monster and seethed at the judge’s feather light sentence.

“We advocated for a lengthier punishment for Mr. Cox to best protect the community and are disappointed by today’s sentence.”

In the coming weeks Black Rhino Media will tackled more EPA crime bulletin cases in our next Flower Power Roundup. Thanks for reading.

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