By Eric Freedman
A heroin addict who stole dozens of air conditioners in the Columbus, Ohio, area to sell for scrap will spend a long time in the cooler for violating the Clean Air Act.
When Shannon Harrold, who was sentenced to 54 months in federal prison, cut the tubing on the purloined air conditioners, he released HCHC, an ozone-damaging refrigerant, into the atmosphere, authorities said.
Harrold pleaded guilty to the environmental felony charge after a joint federal-state-local investigation.
“Refrigerants deplete the ozone layer which protects people from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation such as skin cancer, so it’s imperative that they are handled properly and in accordance with the laws, Environmental Protection Agency Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Martinez said in a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
And the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum said that his “blatant disregard for the law and for the environment is inexcusable.”
“Those who steal air conditioning units or who steal other types of equipment containing CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) must be made aware of the severe consequences resulting from releasing environmental pollutants into the atmosphere,” the memorandum said.
Court documents lay out the path that led to Harrold’s arrest conviction:
In August 2015, he pretended to work for an air conditioning maintenance company to gain access to a store’s rooftop unit in Whitehall. A store employee discovered that Harrold was an imposter by checking with the maintenance company, went onto the roof and confronted Harrold, who fled — but not until he’d already used an electrical saw to cut the tubing on the air conditioner’s condenser, releasing the refrigerant into the air.
Such large commercial units contain much more refrigerant than typical household units, according to court documents.
Meanwhile, Westerville police were investigating the thefts of air conditioner units in that community and discovered that he’d sold more than three dozen air conditioning items such as scrap copper and aluminum radiators to scrap yards in a five-week period last year
Surveillance video evidence showed Harrold and his car at the scene of a Westerville car wash where three air conditioner units were stolen. He and an accomplice also were photographed selling air conditioner radiators at a metal salvage yard.
Between Sept. 5, 2015, and Sept. 18, 2015, he sold approximately 45 air conditioner radiators to the scrap yard,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum filed in federal court.
But that was only the tip of an air conditioning theft iceberg in the area.
EPA Special Agent Thomas Kohl Jr. said in an affidavit, “Over the last several years in Columbus, hundreds of air conditioners have been stolen from homes and businesses and sold for their scrap value.”
Police arrested Harrold last September in Gahanna after a high speed chase and found an electric saw, a drill, stolen license plates, heroin and drug paraphernalia in his car.
Harrold has a “long string of property-related convictions,” his lawyer, Deborah Williams of the Federal Public Defender’s Office, said in a court filing.
Fred Alverson, a public affairs officer in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbus said none of the salvage yards have been charged because Harrold showed them false paperwork purporting to show that he owned the scrap, and there was no evidence that they knew the material had been stolen.
Alverson said Harrold’s accomplice has not been charged in federal court.
In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley ordered Harrold to pay $29,045 in restitution for the cost to repair damaged units on the store roof and to replace the units stolen from the car wash
He is awaiting sentencing on related state charges in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.