By Eric Freedman
A federal judge has placed the ex-president of a Fort Wayne environmental services company – described in her lawyer’s sentencing memorandum as “kind, generous, hard-working and honest” and a “huge source of inspiration” for her children and grandchildren” – on probation for two years for illegally storing hazardous wastes and falsifying a document.
But the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum said Michelle Rousseff-Kemp’s actions “demonstrated a disregard for laws designed to protect the public from the dangers associated with hazardous wastes. When she became aware that her conduct was under scrutiny by law enforcement authorities, she attempted to hide her wrongdoing by engaging in obstructive and deceptive acts, putting the public and environment at risk.”
Rousseff-Kemp, the company’s former owner and president, was also fined $5,500 after pleading guilty to two felonies. She’d faced up to five years in prison, plus a fine.
The formal charges identified her business only as “Company A,” but Rousseff-Kemp’s LinkedIn profile says she is president of KCom Environmental.
On its website, the company says its mission is bringing “innovative alternatives and solutions that mitigate risks and minimize costs to clients who generate, manage, and dispose of wastes or have environmentally impaired sites.” It describes itself as “a leading environmental services company serving industrial maintenance, transportation and waste management clients.”
The family-owned business had a record of legal problems dating back to 2010, court records show, and was in financial trouble.
Under the plea bargain recently approved by U.S. District Court Judge Holly Brady, Rousseff-Kemp agreed not to own, operate or manage any company that handles, transports or treats hazard waste while on probation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which unsuccessfully asked Brady to sentence Rousseff-Kemp to prison, said the company “held itself out as an environmental services company providing comprehensive waste management services. Among other things, the business functioned as a hazardous waste transporter and broker.”
Neither she nor her company had the required permit to store hazardous waste, the agency said in a news release.
The charges arose from a 2018 transaction in which Rousseff-Kemp’s company had picked up hazard waste generated by another company, court documents show.
When that customer requested copies of manifests for recent hazardous waste shipments, Rousseff-Kemp asked an employee to sign the name of a representative of a waste treatment, storage and disposal facility on the manifest. The employee refused, so Rousseff-Kemp forged the name herself, court documents show.
“The manifest copy contained false information purporting to show that the hazardous waste had been delivered to the facility and signed for by a representative of the facility,” the U.S. Attorney’s news release said. “In truth, and as known by Rousseff-Kemp, the waste had not been sent to the facility and remained stored by her company.”
In 2019, while KCom Environmental was illegally storing drums of flammable hazardous waste, Rousseff-Kemp learned that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management planned to inspect the facility, according to court documents. She then arranged to have three trailers of drums containing hazardous wastes moved off-site before the inspectors arrived.
As a result, inspectors found only empty trailers at the facility, documents show.
In the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum to the judge, the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote, “Despite her years of experience and numerous certificates in hazardous waste operations, she knowingly stored hazardous waste without a permit.”
“While aware that the Environmental Protection Agency and a federal grand jury were
investigating conduct relating to her company, she took steps to cover up her crime and obstruct these investigations,” it said.
It also said her misconduct increased the chances of a dangerous environmental release, adding that the facility’s location near an elementary school and townhome community “amplified these risks” to the public.
Defense lawyer Michelle Kraus called probation an “appropriate sentence” and said Rousseff-Kemp expressed remorse at her sentencing hearing.
“She understood the risk to the environment that was created when she stored the hazardous waste for more than 10 days. A report prepared at the time confirmed that there was no damage to the environment as a result of the waste being stored for the extended time,” Kraus said
Her memorandum to the judge said, “Bad things sometimes happen to good people, and those bad things may make good people do things that they otherwise would never dream of doing.”
The investigation involved the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General and the state Department of Environmental Management, Office of Criminal Investigations.