By Eric Freedman
A federal grand jury in Minneapolis has charged two executives and their environmental company with fraud in the mishandling of toxic chemicals.
The indictment accuses Luminaire Environmental and Technologies Inc., company co-owner John Miller Jr. and operations manager Joseph Miller of conspiracy, fraud and falsifying documents.
The company “purported to be a recycling and waste disposal business that offered to pick up customers’ fluorescent light ballasts containing polychlorinated biphenyls, transport the PCB-containing ballasts to Luminaire’s facility in Plymouth, Minnesota, and remove and dispose of all the PCBs” as federal law requires, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in announcing the charges.
Federal law prohibits PCBs in fluorescent light fixtures manufactured after 1979, but many older fixtures with PCBs are still used.
Scientists have linked PCB exposure to neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children and have identified PCBs as a cause of cancer in animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Luminaire made “false representations to customers” and prospective customers that it would properly dispose of or incinerate the PCBs, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
Company employees scraped off or painted over labels and then sold the contaminated ballasts to scrap yards and metal recycling facilities, the indictment said. The Miller brothers also were responsible for falsifying shipping manifests and corporate records “to conceal the true destination and disposal of customers’ toxic chemicals.”
Only “a small percentage of PCB-containing ballasts” were handled as promised “to maintain the appearance” of compliance, the indictment said.
Phonied documents were mailed to state environmental regulators and to customers, according to the charges.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty, and defense lawyer Joseph Friedberg of Minneapolis said, “We believe the government’s accusation are not well-founded.”
He said there are no allegations that the materials with PCBs caused any environmental damage.
“The case will go to trial,” Friedberg said. “We never had any interest in negotiating a settlement.”
The alleged scheme investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency ran from 2010 to 2015 and generated an additional $1 million in fees and additional profits for the company, the indictment said.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted, said Tasha Zerna, a public affairs specialist in the U.S. Attorney’s office.