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CRACKDOWN STARTS ON REFRIGERANT SMUGGLING.

Byline: The New York Times

Federal authorities Thursday charged more than a dozen people and businesses with smuggling a refrigerant into the United States that is banned because it damages the Earth's protective layer of atmospheric ozone.

Attorney General Janet Reno also vowed that the Clinton administration will expand a crackdown on illegal imports of the chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, including the type commonly known by the brand name Freon.

Such smuggling has been increasing since the United States, in keeping with an environmental treaty, banned imports and the production of CFCs a year ago.

A lively and lucrative black market has sprung up, with canisters of gaseous CFCs sold to dealers and service stations that use the chemical mostly to refill air conditioners in automobiles made before 1994. There is a two-year supply of legal CFCs in the United States, but after that runs out, older cars will need to be modified to use an environmentally benign alternative.

The charges were filed by prosecutors in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego and Savannah, Ga.

In the biggest case, the owner of Refrigerant Management Services Inc., R. Colin Dayton of Bryn Mawr, Pa., was charged along with several other people with smuggling about 1.5 million pounds of the refrigerant into the United States in 1994 and 1995. The activity earned profits of $1 million and deprived the government of excise taxes of $7 million, according to an indictment.

Stanley Arkin, a lawyer for Dayton, said the charges are totally false and based on allegations by people under prosecution who were seeking to blame others. ``This is a trendy prosecution with no substance,'' Arkin said.

A typical car uses 2 or 3 pounds of the gas, worth $12 to $15 a pound, in its air-conditioning system.

U.S. Customs Commissioner George J. Weise said there had been a dramatic shift in smuggling from the Miami region to the border with Mexico and that some big smuggling rings appeared to involve Russian-organized crime. Other major sources of supply, he said, include India and China.

An indictment in San Diego is that district's 10th case involving the apparent smuggling of CFCs across the Mexican border, and a case filed in Houston was one of several similar prosecutions.

Eighteen people have been convicted of smuggling the chemicals, mostly as a result of a crackdown in the Miami region, and prison terms of up to 57 months have been imposed, along with fines.

Authorities have confiscated 1.5 million pounds of CFCs but estimate that 20 million pounds illegally crossed into the United States last year.

Although the chemicals end up in cars, motorists are unlikely to share in the smuggling profits. Instead, they are likely to pay full price for the refrigerant, with middlemen reaping the profits. Service stations and distributors, too, are sometimes unaware that the chemicals they are buying are illegal, officials said.

``To people who service cars or distribute refrigerants, we say: If you're offered something at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is,'' Reno said at a news conference Thursday. ``Please alert the EPA or your local FBI office if you see such situations. And to CFC smugglers, we say: We're going to find you. We will shut you down. We're going to shut down this black market.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 10, 1997
Words:554
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