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Doing time for environmental crime.

Doing Time for Environmental Crime

From the outset, there was no doubt the state was treating its case against C&M Plating Co. as a potentially major crime. The presence of more than 40 state troopers and Indiana Department of Environmental Management investigators at the company made that clear.

They descended on the Northeastern Indiana town of Roanoke in April 1987 when more than 200 criminal charges were filed against Dale L. John, C&M board chairman, and his son, Martin D. John, president of the company. C&M Plating itself was hit with 220 charges. The state said the electroplating company company had dumped metal-laden wastes, failed to inform local officials of the potential health problem and lied to cover up its actions.

State officials have said the criminal cases they prepared against C&M Plating - and the fact they eventually got guilty pleas to some charges - is an indication the state takes environmental enforcement seriously.

According to state findings, the Johns' company allegedly dumped substances that contained high levels of various metals, including cadmium, copper and zinc. Although the town's drinking water was not affected, the waste was blamed for contaminating Roanoke's sewage-treatment lagoons. The town of less than 1,000 was left with a $1 million-plus mess to clean up.

When the charges were filed, C&M employed about two dozen people. The company, which was founded in 1946, has never re-opened.

The criminal case against the Johns and C&M continued until November 1990, when they accepted a plea agreement with the state. Each man pleaded guilty to one felony count of operating a hazardous-waste facility without a permit. In exchange, other felony and misdemeanor charges against the pair were dismissed. Each of the men was sentenced to a one-year home-detention program and fined $3,000.

The company itself entered guilty pleas to 10 felony counts, among them failing to notify Roanoke town officials about discharge violations. It was fined $25,000 on each count - at a quarter million dollars, it was one of the largest environmental fines in the state's history. But it's hard to determine how much the state will actually recover. Earlier in the year, C&M had declared bankruptcy. At the time, Martin John cited assets of $10,000 and $414,200 in debts.

Tough action by the state should send a message to other Indiana companies who ignore environmental warnings, IDEM Commissioner Kathy Prosser said when the guilty pleas were made. "This is the toughest criminal penalty we've assessed and sets a precedent for the future," she said.

According to documents released by the state, the IDEM began building a criminal case in August 1986, when it saw evidence that the violations were being committed "knowingly, intentionally and recklessly."

Since 1975, the state had been after C&M to comply with terms of its permit to discharge wastewater. Investigators from the IDEM said they had repeatedly found evidence C&M was dumping into Cow Creek, which runs through Roanoke and eventually empties into the Little Wabash River.

In 1980, the company did notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the creation, transportation and treatment of hazardous waste at the site, but the company never met state and federal requirements governing the storage and disposal of the waste, according to the IDEM. Among the violations cited was the fact that C&M had never obtained a hazardous-waste permit covering its activities.

Cleanup at the C&M site continues. In May, the Indiana Department of Commerce agreed to give the town of Roanoke a $397,280 grant to continue cleanup work at its sewage lagoons. In all, the cleanup bill is expected to reach $1.2 million.

PHOTO : The violations were being committed "knowingly, intentionally and recklessly."
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Title Annotation:criminal charges against C&M Plating Co.
Author:Skertic, Mark
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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Next Article:Not "Fail" safe.

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